Published August 26, 2013
With the cost of college on a steady rise with no end in sight, many students are wondering if the price tag is worth it. Well, a new test might be able to show just how much (or little) students learned during their time on campus.
Starting this year, more than 200 colleges and universities will be offering a new standardized test called the CLA +, (Collegiate Learning Assessment) that is designed to cut through grade inflation and provide both students and employers tangible evidence of what grads learned in college, particularly, critical-thinking skills.
In the past, the original CLA was administered by universities to assess how much value they had provided to students, according to Roger Benjamin, president of the Council for Aid to Education (CAE), which developed the test. This standardized measure is for the benefit of students, he says.
“The mean GPA for college students is a 3.3, or an A-minus or B-plus. That means for most students, a huge number of students don’t really have anything they can use to distinguish their skill levels when they graduate. That wasn’t the case in the past, for someone over 50 or 60, the GPA [back then] was more of a bell-shaped curve.”
If a student attends a highly-selective Ivy League school, employers may assume he or she has learned advanced skills, says Benjamin, but for those who attend other state and local colleges and universities in the U.S., the CLA+ is a way to stand and showcase their skills to future employers.
“They may have extremely strong analytic critical thinking and writing skills, and by taking this test they have some additional information to show to employers,” he says.
The test has been beta-tested with 20 participating schools this past spring, and is rolling out this fall on a wider scale. The fee for taking the test is $35, and Benjamin expects many schools to pay the fee for students. Schools that will be participating include the State University of New York (SUNY) school system and the University of Texas, he says.
The value of a college education is becoming more difficult to assess, says Judah Bellin, assistant editor at the Manhattan Institute, which is why a test like the CLA+ can benefit students.
“This is good for future employers to understand what a particular student has gotten out of college, and for parents to obtain that understanding as well,” Bellin says. “If institutions published the average CLA+ score of students, it could give insight to prospective students to learn what they would get out of attending a particular institution.”
That being said, Bellin doesn’t think the test will become mainstream anytime soon.
“Colleges are terrified of having the public discover that much of what they are offering is not valuable, and a lot of what goes on in colleges is not education, but is instead credentialing,” he says.
Benjamin says that while CLA+ scores may not be included on resumes, he envisions a future with enhanced transcripts post-graduation that include the test.
“We used to assume that if you got a bachelors’ degree, you were ready for work and citizenship, but that is not the case anymore,” he says. “The quality of student learning outcomes it he dog that hasn’t barked yet.”