Do Colleges Cultivate Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Writing and Interpersonal Skills?

Published in: Economics of Education Review, 30, no. 6, Dec. 2011, p. 1516-1526

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2010

by Anna Rosefsky Saavedra, Juan Saavedra

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We investigate how much value college enrollment adds to students' critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills, and the role college inputs play in developing these competencies, using data from a 2009 collegiate assessment pilot study in Colombia. Relative to observationally similar first year students, students in their final year of college score about half of a standard deviation higher, with statistically significant higher scores on every individual component of the test. Sensitivity analyses indicate that results are robust to validity threats posed by selection bias. Students in private colleges exhibit significantly higher overall test score differences. Measures of college quality such as selectivity, rankings based on reputation, share of faculty with PhD, share of full-time faculty and expenditures per student, however, are not meaningfully associated with higher test score differences between last and first year students.

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