In spite of soaring tuition costs, more and more students go to college every year. A bachelor's degree is now required for entry into a growing number of professions. And some parents begin planning for the expense of sending their kids to college when they're born. Almost everyone strives to go, but almost no one asks the fundamental question posed by Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on Higher Education: 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.
Richard Arum is professor of sociology in New York University's Department of Sociology and professor of education at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. In January 2011 his book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, was published by the University of Chicago Press. The book received national media attention for its findings that, after the first two years of college, a significant number of students demonstrate no improvement in a range of skills including critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing.
Professor Arum is also Program Director of Educational Research at the Social Science Research Council, where he has directed the CLA Longitudinal Project and successfully led efforts to organize educational stakeholders in New York City to create the Research Alliance for New York City Schools (an entity loosely modeled after the Consortium on Chicago School Research) that focuses on ongoing evaluation and assessment research to support public school improvement efforts.