critical thinking word cloud

Higher ed must help students improve critical-thinking skills

How are today’s students using important critical thinking skills in their daily lives?

Critical thinking is one of the top-requested skills employers look for in job applicants, but is higher ed doing enough to help students develop this skill?

Fifty-nine percent of surveyed adults ages 18-31 who attend or attended a college or university say they are very confident in their soft skills, including critical thinking—but that same survey also shows a decrease in that group’s ability to distinguish between false and factual information.

The second annual State of Critical Thinking survey from MindEdge asked respondents to complete a brief quiz requiring them to use digital literacy and critical thinking skills. In 2018, respondents scored lower on every question compared to 2017, and 52 percent of last year’s respondents received a failing grade.

The survey offers a number of takeaways, some more worrisome than others:

1. In 2017, 44 percent of survey respondents received an ‘F’ on the critical thinking quiz. In 2018, 52 percent of respondents failed the quiz.

2. In 2017, 24 percent of respondents answered at least 8 of the 9 quiz questions correctly. In 2018, just 19 percent of respondents answered at least 8 questions correctly.

3. Half of recent college graduates say soft skills, such as creativity and critical thinking, and hard skills, such as computer programming and analytics, are equally important in today’s workplace. Among those who express a preference for one or the other, soft skills (31 percent) are seen as more important than hard skills (18 percent).

4. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of respondents say their college education taught them skills they’ll need to succeed in the workforce, and 59 percent are very confident in their soft skills, including critical thinking, problem solving, and public speaking.

5. Respondents tend to rate their own critical thinking skills relatively high, with just 12 percent rating critical thinking as their weakest skill. But only 25 percent of those surveyed say their peer and colleagues have strong critical thinking skills.

6. Fake news continues to present a challenge. Sixty-four percent of those surveyed receive news from social media platforms and 50 percent get their news from print or online newspapers. Nearly half (48 percent) say the fake news problem has worsened over the past year.

7. When it comes to who or what to blame for fake news, 24 percent of those surveyed blame politicians who claim negative stories about them are fake news; 21 percent blame websites that promote false content to advance a political or ideological agenda; 20 percent blame content producers who make up false stories to make money; 17 percent blame social media platforms that allow false content to go viral; and 11 percent blame content producers who make up false stories to make money.

Laura Ascione

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