Students Cruising Through College With Little Asked of Them, Little Learned, Book Says

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals: Teens

college diploma

That diploma won't mean much if your college student skips on the studying. Credit: Getty

When you phone your daughter at college at 3 p.m., only to discover she's just rolling out of bed, or you ask your university-attending son what his plans are for the week and he rattles off a list of bashes and bar crawls, your parental instincts that you're throwing $25,000 a year down the drain may be right.

For a long time, educators have focused on the crisis of overcrowded classrooms and unmotivated kids in primary and secondary schools, but now, author Richard Arum argues in "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses," the downward trend in learning is rampant in colleges and universities, too, Salon.com reports.

Arum, a sociology and education professor at New York University, co-authored the book with University of Virginia sociology professor Josipa Roksa.

Growing numbers of undergraduates are moving through college without working particularly hard, and without key learning skills, such as complex reasoning and critical thinking, Arum tells Salon.com. He says his research is based on the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a standardized test, as well as transcripts and self-reports from students.

The data is supported across the board at universities, research institutions, liberal arts colleges and even highly selective schools, and, Arum tells the site, although colleges and universities are doing lots of great things today, they're not focused on educating students.

"We also argue that large numbers of students today are moving through college and university academically adrift," he tells Salon.com. "They end up with college degrees that have too little substance to them, because they've been able to identify pathways through college that have asked very little of them academically."

Fueling the trend, Arum tells the site, is a long-standing tradition of some students going through college with little asked of them and little learned.

"Nothing is new about that," he says. "However, there is significant evidence out there that something has changed in terms of the academic rigor and student workload."

Full-time college students spend 50 percent less time studying than they did several decades ago, Arum tells Salon.com.

"We also know that, in terms of grades, students expect to receive higher grades and do receive higher grades in spite of less effort," he adds.

The consequences? College graduates will not have developed the "higher order" skills -- critical thinking, complex reasoning and the ability to communicate in writing -- skills needed in today's labor market, Arum tells Salon.com.

"If you haven't, you're going to be at a lifelong disadvantage in the economy," he tells the site. "Equally or more troubling, if you're graduating large numbers of kids that have not developed critical thinking and complex reasoning, how are they going to function as democratic citizens?"

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