A Look at Why Colleges Are Failing Students

I wrote the following college blog post last year, but I think it’s worth repeating because I believe that more teenagers (and their parents) are focused on getting into college rather than making the most of the experience once they arrive.

I’d love to know what your thoughts are on this post. If you don’t mind sharing, please use the comment box below. (Thanks for everybody who has mentioned that the comments section today  is inexplicably closed. I’ve got my web guy working on this! LO)

Academically Adrift

Are students learning anything in college?

I admit that this sounds like a strange question. Billions of dollars are poured into educating undergraduates every year, while the stress and anxiety that teenagers experience as they prepare for college is immeasurable.

The time, money, and effort that’s required to educate college students helps explain why the findings are so shocking in a new blockbuster book—Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses—that argues that many students aren’t learning anything. When it was released last week, it became an Amazon.com bestseller almost instantly as the higher-ed world clucked about its grim findings.

The book’s authors, Richard Arum, a sociology professor at New York University, and Josipa Roksa, an assistant sociology professor at the University of Virginia, examined the academic progress—or, more often, lack of progress—that 2,300 students experienced during their college years. The researchers followed students at 24 unnamed schools that included research universities and liberal arts colleges, as well as historically black colleges and those that attract a large number of Hispanics. Here are some of the researchers’ disturbing conclusions:

1. By the completion of their sophomore year, 45 percent of college students had learned little. Specifically, after four semesters these students showed no significant improvement in writing, critical thinking, and complex reasoning.

2. More than one out of three college seniors were no better at writing and reasoning than when they showed up as freshmen.

3. Many of the students who did experience growth showed only modest progress.

4. Certain majors fared worse than others in making academic progress. Among the laggards were students who majored in education, sociology, communications, and business. FYI, business is by far the most popular major in the United States. According to federal statistics, 21 percent of undergraduates degrees belong to business majors.

In one of the book’s few bright spots, students who majored in one of the liberal arts, such as philosophy, economics, chemistry, biology, and languages, did experience “significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills over time than students in other fields of study.”

 Living Up to Low Expectations

Why are so many students seemingly sleepwalking through school? Because they can. The authors argued that among the culprits is an educational system that doesn’t expect much from its undergraduates. Many students can graduate from college without spending much

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