This book couldn't be more potentially explosive if its contents were 100% highly-enriched uranium; unfortunately, the vested interests realize this and are already hard at work smothering the authors' findings. Authors Richard Arum (sociology and education professor at New York University) and Josipa Roksa (professor of sociology at the University of Virginia) studied over 2,000 undergraduates from Fall 2005 to Spring 2009 at two dozen universities (large public flagship institutions, highly selective liberal-arts colleges, and institutions that historically serve blacks and Hispanics). They determined that 45% "demonstrated no significant gains in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and written communications during the first two years of college," and 36% showed no improvement over the entire four years. Including dropouts would have made the findings even worse. Further, those that did improve did so only modestly on average - eg. moving from the 50th percentile to the 68th in those four years. These findings severely undermine President Obama's proposal to boost the proportion of U.S. college graduates from 40% to 60% in ten years, parents' sacrifices to send their children to college, students incurring crushing amounts of college debt, and the rationale for average tuitions now having risen to 257% of their 1986 levels.
The author's assessment was made using the respected 'Collegiate Learning Assessment' (CLA) from the Council for Aid to Education. That group adds that "Academically Adrift" confirms their own findings, and that when combined with our 47 million high school dropouts and the fact that 40% of entering college students cannot read, write, or compute at a college-ready level makes our overall education outputs even dimmer - despite world-leading per-pupil expenditure levels.
The main culprit, per Arum and Roksa, is lack of academic rigor. The authors also found that 32% of the students they studied did not take any courses with 40 pages or more of reading/week, and 50% did not take a single course in which they wrote more than 20 pages during the semester. The authors also report that students spend an average of only 12-14 hours/week studying - 50% less than a few decades ago (per Babcock and Marks), and much of that study took place in fashionable but inefficient groups (per the data analysis). Another conclusion from the authors - instructors tend to be more focused on their own research than teaching. Despite this lack of effort, professor Arum also noes that the students studied averaged a 3.2 GPA. The 'good news' is that students reporting high expectations from faculty members did better, and 23% of the variation in CLA performance occurred across institutions.
The authors' findings are also consistent, per the New York Times (1/17/2010), with the National Survey of Student Engagement's previous review of thousands of students at almost six hundred colleges. That survey found that 12% of first-year students did essentially no quantitative reasoning activity in their coursework, and 51% of seniors had not written a paper during their final year that was at least 20 pages long - even at the top 10% of schools in the study. Similarly, The American Council of Trustees and Alumni study of more than 700 top educational institutions found that students can graduate with ever having exposure to composition, American history, or economics ("The Washington Post, 1/19/2011), while the National Assessment of Adult Literacy found the percentage of college graduates proficient in prose literacy decline from 40% to 31% in the past decade.
The authors found that students in traditional liberal-arts fields improved more on the CLA, education, business and social-work students didn't do so well. Business students not doing well is understandable, given the nonsensensical training they receive on free trade and illegal immigration, as well as logic derived from previously different levels of competition; education students receive even more fact-defying nonsense on the 'benefits' of class size reductions, extra years of teacher experience and training, and the general usefulness of certifications and added spending.
Authors Arum and Roksa recommend increased measurement of student learning, increased faculty expectations from their pupils, improved K-12 performance, and less emphasis on group study. They conclude with a question: "How much are students actually learning in higher education?" Their answer - "for many, not much." They may graduate (57%), but they're failing to develop higher-order cognitive skills - exactly the skills that educators use to excuse our dismal comparative performance on international assessments of K-12 learning.
Bottom-Line: "Academically Adrift's" findings are also consistent with studies of K-12 international achievement that found we're out-worked by our competitors. Why then do so many Asians come to American colleges: weekend observations at nearby Arizona State University indicate they're much more internally motivated, evidenced by my repeated observations that almost all the students in the library then are Asians, even though their overall enrollment is relatively small. American students must similarly become much more motivated. Meanwhile, Kevin Care, policy director of independent think tank Education Sector summarizes the situation well - colleges can no longer say "Trust Us" in response to questions about how much their students learn ("The Chronicle of Higher Education," 1/18/2011).