To give value to an education, prioritize the first two years of college

This past week, USA Today published an article commenting on the intellectual value of the first two years of a college student’s education. The article based its claim on a report originating in the book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, by New York University professor Richard Arum. In a study, scientists surveyed 3,000 full-time students on 29 different campuses nationwide, and they investigated the transcripts and standardized test results of those students over time.

In a result that would probably prove shocking to most students and faculty members alike here at Carnegie Mellon, a surprising 45 percent of students involved in the study showed no significant gains in learning during their first two years of college. Data also showed that today’s students, in comparison to those enrolled in universities a few decades ago, spend 50 percent less time studying.

For most Carnegie Mellon students, these statistics aren’t exactly believable. For someone who has spent all day working in a cubicle on the third floor of Hunt Library or slaving away on a Friday night in a Gates computer cluster, no nationwide report can take away from the effort one puts into his or her education here. Furthermore, for college students who pay roughly $200,000 for a four-year education, most of us would like to believe we’re getting our money’s worth. That being said, it’s safe to say that the value of our education is dependent on our individual efforts as well, throughout all four years of our time here.

The first two years of one’s college education should be about the building blocks. The general education classes and the experimental courses we take when finding a major are the most important, as they work to create the foundation of the rest of our education. If the majority of the nation’s college students are unable to get anything out of their first two years, perhaps a re-evaluation of the way students structure their time is necessary. Many students work to cram the idealized “college experience” into their freshman and sophomore years, spending their time partying instead of focusing on schoolwork. Putting the money we spend on our education to good use should be the main priority of the collegiate population.