Any parent paying college tuition — and I am one of them — will cringe when they read “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” a new book that says 45 percent of college students “demonstrated no significant gains in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and written communications during the first two years of college.”
Written by sociologists Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia, the book also looks at the workload of today’s college student and finds it lacking. Students are not taking courses that require more than 40 pages of reading each week or classes where they have to write more than 20 pages per semester. It seems colleges are demanding less of students, and students are happy to comply.
In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, Arum said, “What concerns us is not just the levels of student performance, but that students are reporting that they make such meager investments in studying, and that they have such meager demands placed on them in their courses in terms of reading and writing.”
The findings come from the authors’ study of a nationally representative sample of more than 2,000 students at 24 four-year colleges. The authors maintain that the problem of the lack of rigor and lack of learning hurt more than the students. They write in their book:
The U.S. higher-education system has in recent years arguably been living off its reputation as being the best in the world. The findings in our study, however, should remind us that the system’s international reputation — largely derived from graduate programs at a handful of elite public and private universities— serves as no guarantee that undergraduate students are being appropriately challenged or exposed to educational experiences that will lead to academic growth throughout the wide range of diverse U.S. colleges and universities. While the U.S. higher-education system still enjoys the competitive advantage of a sterling international reputation, in recent decades it has been increasingly surpassed in terms of quantity (i.e., the percentage of young adults it graduates), and its quality is coming under increasing scrutiny.
The authors have continued tracking the students in their study through graduation and plan a sequel on their post-college worlds. According to the Chronicle:
The students who graduated on time, in 2009, have been rewarded with a miserable recessionary labor market. As of late last year, 35 percent of those recent graduates were living with their parents or other family members, and 9 percent were unemployed. Among those who were working full-time, only 17 percent were earning more than $40,000 a year.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog