Nearly half of the nation's undergraduates show almost no gains in learning in their first two years of college, in large part because colleges don't make academics a priority, a new report shows. Instructors tend to be more focused on their own faculty research than teaching younger students, who in turn are more tuned in to their social lives, according to the report, based on a book titled Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. Findings are based on transcripts and surveys of more than 3,000 full-time traditional-age students on 29 campuses nationwide, along with their results on the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a standardized test that gauges students' critical thinking, analytic reasoning and writing skills.Other details from the book included the following:
After two years in college, 45% of students showed no significant gains in learning; after four years, 36% showed little change.
Students also spent 50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago, the research shows.
"These are really kind of shocking, disturbing numbers," says New York University professor Richard Arum, lead author of the book, published by the University of Chicago Press.
He noted that students in the study, on average, earned a 3.2 grade-point average. "Students are able to navigate through the system quite well with little effort," Arum said.
•35% of students report spending five or fewer hours per week studying alone. Yet, despite an "ever-growing emphasis" on study groups and collaborative projects, students who study in groups tend to have lower gains in learning.A graph accompanying the article indicates that typical students spend 75% of their time either socializing or sleeping and only 7% of their time studying. The graph indicates that students spend 9% of their time in class but even that time is often spent sleeping or surfing the web on their laptops.
•50% said they never took a class in a typical semester where they wrote more than 20 pages; 32% never took a course in a typical semester where they read more than 40 pages per week.
Part of the problem, perhaps, is that there are so many schools competing for students from a shrinking demographic pool, now that the boomer generation has passed, so schools are admitting a lot more applicants that really have no business going to college. When schools dilute the intellectual quality of their student body they invariably dilute the expectations they have of those students and that, in turn, dilutes the academic standards to which those students are held.
This, I fear, sends a subconscious message to students that the school is not really serious about academic rigor, that the school and the student are engaged in a kind of kubuki dance wherein the student pays his money, puts forth a modicum of effort, and the school for its part grants him a degree at the end of the performance.
College for many is not a place for the cultivation of the life of the mind or to achieve excellence in some academic discipline. Rather, it's a place one goes to purchase a credential that will give one entree into the job market. Both sides maintain the pretense that the top priority, at least for the school, is intellectual development, but both sides also realize that in fact they're involved in a protracted business transaction. And along the way college provides lots of opportunities for fun and frolic.
Thankfully, not all schools have bought into this model, and not all instructors in the schools which do go along with the charade, but it does seem to be an overall trend.