Eight years ago, leaders of the University of Texas set out to measure something few in higher education had thought to question — how much their students learn before graduation.
An unsettling answer emerged: arguably, not very much.
That conclusion is based on results from a 90-minute essay test given to freshmen and seniors that aims to gauge gains in critical thinking and communication skills.
The Texas flagship and a few hundred other public universities have joined a growing accountability movement in higher education, embracing this test and others like it that attempt, for the first time, to quantify collegiate learning on a large scale.
But the results have triggered a wave of rancor. Some college leaders are outraged that four years of learning might now be reduced to a single score. Lackluster results have seeded fresh doubts about the country’s vaunted system of higher education.