Higher Ed is in for a World of Hurt

October 4, 2010

Last Friday the Department of Education Reform’s lecture series featured a great talk by Richard Arum, a sociologist from New York University.

He presented research from the forthcoming book, Academically Adrift, which he co-authored with Josipa Roksa.  I don’t want to scoop their findings, which will be released in the book and an accompanying report in January, so let me simply quote from the promotional material:

Almost everyone strives to go, but almost no one asks the fundamental question posed by Academically Adrift: are undergraduates really learning anything once they get there?

For a large proportion of students, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s answer to that question is a definitive no. Their extensive research draws on survey responses, transcript data, and, for the first time, the state-of-the-art Collegiate Learning Assessment, a standardized test administered to students in their first semester and then again at the end of their second year. According to their analysis of more than 2,300 undergraduates at twenty-four institutions, 45 percent of these students demonstrate no significant improvement in a range of skills—including critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing—during their first two years of college. As troubling as their findings are, Arum and Roksa argue that for many faculty and administrators they will come as no surprise—instead, they are the expected result of a student body distracted by socializing or working and an institutional culture that puts undergraduate learning close to the bottom of the priority list.

Be sure to read this book and the supplemental report when it comes out because he presented some amazing and disturbing information on how students spend their time, what their courses require of them, how much they learn, and what happens after they graduate.  Let’s just say that the results don’t paint a pretty picture.

And we may want to ask again why universities are hiring all of those non-instructional professional staff and administrators.