New Study Finds Link Between Critical Thinking and Unemployment

In January of 2011 we told you about the new book “Academically Adrift” which followed 2,322 students during their 4 years in college and found that these students are not improving their critical thinking skills.

In fact, in the first 2 years, 45% of students showed no improvement in critical thinking skills, and after 4 years 36% still showed no improvement.

This week, a follow-up report was released that showed the long term effects of this critical thinking crisis.  The study (“Documenting Uncertain Times: Post-graduate Transition of the Academically Adrift Cohort”) showed the devastating results of poor critical thinking skills with respect to job placement and debt.

…graduates who scored in the bottom quintile of the test were three times more likely to be unemployed than those who scored in the top quintile, twice as likely to still be living at home and significantly more likely to have amassed credit card debt.

This study should be no surprise considering the competitive nature of the job market when unemployment is still extremely high.  When you lack the #1 skill sought after by employers, you will likely remain unemployed.  However this paints a very bleak future for Gen Y graduates.  Students are taking out massive student loans to get through 4 years of college, only to find that their basic analytical thinking skills are lacking.  As a result, they are living at home longer, taking out credit cards to cover daily expenses, and likely going into default with their student loans.  The debt they amass will haunt them for a lifetime as they apply for car loans, mortgages, auto insurance, and even jobs.

So, who should be held accountable?  Are the Universities to blame? Are the students ultimately responsible for choosing challenging courses that will improve their skill set?  What are the long term implications for employers?

How would you solve this problem?

Learn more about the critical thinking skills gap in this white paper.

Editor’s Note: Breanne Harris is the Solutions Architect for Pearson TalentLens. She works with customers to design selection and development plans that incorporate critical thinking assessments and training. She has a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and has experience in recruiting, training, and HR consulting. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter for more of her thoughts.

6 responses to “New Study Finds Link Between Critical Thinking and Unemployment”

  1. Daniel J. Lewis

    I think universities are much to blame because they’re teaching students what to think and not how to think.

    In one class, they’re taught to accept all things and critical thinking is thrown out. In another class, any view opposed to the professor’s is rejected and ridiculed and critical thinking is punished.

    But students are also making decisions before they walk through the university doors. These decisions are based on their life experience up to that point. Did they have a father and mother? Did their parents teach them how to think? Or did their parents set poor examples?

    1. Breanne

      Thanks Daniel! In college, I had several classes where disagreeing with the professor was absolutely unacceptable. Unfortunately those discussions would have been perfect opportunities to see critical thinking in action. We only learn to display critical thinking skills when we’re able to practice them consistently. You’re also right that building critical thinking skills doesn’t start in college. Parents and Grades K-12 are just as important and create the essential foundation for future learning.

  2. Carla

    I don’t know if it will help in the long run or not, but we do something that we hope will help our children in this area. I homeschool them and several times a week they do critical thinking puzzles. It is interesting to see the differences in their thinking skills with how they solve the puzzles. We have one child who can do them with little effort (and he is not the oldest). The oldest actually almost overthinks it and it takes him longer to get the answer. He is quicker to say “This is too hard, whatever!”. I am hoping that by doing more of them he will realize there is a solution if you are willing to work and think to solve it. I think many parents do everything for their kids and it does not lead them to need those kind of thinking skills. When they get out on their own they have no history of solving problems so they are lost.

    1. Breanne

      Carla- Great points! I think great homeschooling provides children even more opportunities to learn critical thinking skills. The one-on-one time allows the parent to explain “why” instead of just “what.” You also make a great point about how every child thinks differently and picks up new information at a different pace. Sadly, college doesn’t accommodate for that difference in learning style. It is up to the individual student to sink or swim.

  3. dereklewin

    Unemployment numbers are comprised of those that are in the job market for the past 30 days. It does not include those that have not been in the job market in the last 30 days: people who have given up looking; those that have gone off unemployment because it has run out. One solution to unemployment is High Speed Universities check it out

    1. Breanne

      Derek- This particular study was not about the overall unemployment rate, but rather the rate of unemployment among this particular group of graduates. I’m also not sold on the “High Speed University” option. As a former recruiter, I can attest that online universities (especially those that are not well known like University of Phoenix) are not seen as favorably as 4-year universities. That may change as online universities become more popular, though.

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