Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses

University of Chicago Press
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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: 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.

Academically Adrift
holds sobering lessons for students, faculty, administrators, policy makers, and parents—all of whom are implicated in promoting or at least ignoring contemporary campus culture. Higher education faces crises on a number of fronts, but Arum and Roksa’s report that colleges are failing at their most basic mission will demand the attention of us all.
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About the author

Richard Arum is professor in the Department of Sociology with a joint appointment in the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University. He is also director of the Education Research Program of the Social Science Research Council and the author of Judging School Discipline: The Crisis of Moral Authority in American Schools. Josipa Roksa is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia.

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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Jan 15, 2011
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Pages
272
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ISBN
9780226028576
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Language
English
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Genres
Education / General
Education / Higher
Education / Testing & Measurement
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Few books have ever made their presence felt on college campuses—and newspaper opinion pages—as quickly and thoroughly as Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s 2011 landmark study of undergraduates’ learning, socialization, and study habits, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. From the moment it was published, one thing was clear: no university could afford to ignore its well-documented and disturbing findings about the failings of undergraduate education. Now Arum and Roksa are back, and their new book follows the same cohort of undergraduates through the rest of their college careers and out into the working world. Built on interviews and detailed surveys of almost a thousand recent college graduates from a diverse range of colleges and universities, Aspiring Adults Adrift reveals a generation facing a difficult transition to adulthood. Recent graduates report trouble finding decent jobs and developing stable romantic relationships, as well as assuming civic and financial responsibility—yet at the same time, they remain surprisingly hopeful and upbeat about their prospects. Analyzing these findings in light of students’ performance on standardized tests of general collegiate skills, selectivity of institutions attended, and choice of major, Arum and Roksa not only map out the current state of a generation too often adrift, but enable us to examine the relationship between college experiences and tentative transitions to adulthood. Sure to be widely discussed, Aspiring Adults Adrift will compel us once again to re-examine the aims, approaches, and achievements of higher education.
With four simple truths as his framework, Charles Murray, the bestselling coauthor of The Bell Curve, sweeps away the hypocrisy, wishful thinking, and upside-down priorities that grip America’s educational establishment.

Ability varies. Children differ in their ability to learn academic material. Doing our best for every child requires, above all else, that we embrace that simplest of truths. America’s educational system does its best to ignore it.

Half of the children are below average. Many children cannot learn more than rudimentary reading and math. Real Education reviews what we know about the limits of what schools can do and the results of four decades of policies that require schools to divert huge resources to unattainable goals.

Too many people are going to college. Almost everyone should get training beyond high school, but the number of students who want, need, or can profit from four years of residential education at the college level is a fraction of the number of young people who are struggling to get a degree. We have set up a standard known as the BA, stripped it of its traditional content, and made it an artificial job qualification. Then we stigmatize everyone who doesn’t get one. For most of America’s young people, today’s college system is a punishing anachronism.

America’s future depends on how we educate the academically gifted. An elite already runs the country, whether we like it or not. Since everything we watch, hear, and read is produced by that elite, and since every business and government department is run by that elite, it is time to start thinking about the kind of education needed by the young people who will run the country. The task is not to give them more advanced technical training, but to give them an education that will make them into wiser adults; not to pamper them, but to hold their feet to the fire.

The good news is that change is not only possible but already happening. Real Education describes the technological and economic trends that are creating options for parents who want the right education for their children, teachers who want to be free to teach again, and young people who want to find something they love doing and learn how to do it well. These are the people for whom Real Education was written. It is they, not the politicians or the educational establishment, who will bring American schools back to reality.

Twenty-four years ago, Charles Murray’s Losing Ground changed the way the nation thought about welfare. Real Education is about to do the same thing for America’s schools.


From the Hardcover edition.
An ambitious, comprehensive reimagining of 21st century higher education

Improving Quality in American Higher Education outlines the fundamental concepts and competencies society demands from today's college graduates, and provides a vision of the future for students, faculty, and administrators. Based on a national, multidisciplinary effort to define and measure learning outcomes—the Measuring College Learning project—this book identifies 'essential concepts and competencies' for six disciplines. These essential concepts and competencies represent efforts towards articulating a consensus among faculty in biology, business, communication, economics, history, and sociology—disciplines that account for nearly 40 percent of undergraduate majors in the United States. Contributions from thought leaders in higher education, including Ira Katznelson, George Kuh, and Carol Geary Schneider, offer expert perspectives and persuasive arguments for the need for greater clarity, intentionality, and quality in U.S. higher education.

College faculty are our best resource for improving the quality of undergraduate education. This book offers a path forward based on faculty perspectives nationwide:Clarify program structure and aimsArticulate high-quality learning goalsRigorously measure student progressPrioritize higher order competencies and disciplinarily grounded conceptual understandings

A culmination of over two years of efforts by faculty and association leaders from six disciplines, this book distills the national conversation into a delineated set of fundamental ideas and practices, and advocates for the development and use of rigorous assessment tools that are valued by faculty, students, and society. Improving Quality in American Higher Education brings faculty voices to the fore of the conversation and offers an insightful look at the state of higher education, and a realistic strategy for better serving our students.

The United States has long been a model for accessible, affordable education, as exemplified by the country's public universities. And yet less than 60 percent of the students entering American universities today are graduating. Why is this happening, and what can be done? Crossing the Finish Line provides the most detailed exploration ever of college completion at America's public universities. This groundbreaking book sheds light on such serious issues as dropout rates linked to race, gender, and socioeconomic status.

Probing graduation rates at twenty-one flagship public universities and four statewide systems of public higher education, the authors focus on the progress of students in the entering class of 1999--from entry to graduation, transfer, or withdrawal. They examine the effects of parental education, family income, race and gender, high school grades, test scores, financial aid, and characteristics of universities attended (especially their selectivity). The conclusions are compelling: minority students and students from poor families have markedly lower graduation rates--and take longer to earn degrees--even when other variables are taken into account. Noting the strong performance of transfer students and the effects of financial constraints on student retention, the authors call for improved transfer and financial aid policies, and suggest ways of improving the sorting processes that match students to institutions.


An outstanding combination of evidence and analysis, Crossing the Finish Line should be read by everyone who cares about the nation's higher education system.

Few books have ever made their presence felt on college campuses—and newspaper opinion pages—as quickly and thoroughly as Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s 2011 landmark study of undergraduates’ learning, socialization, and study habits, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. From the moment it was published, one thing was clear: no university could afford to ignore its well-documented and disturbing findings about the failings of undergraduate education. Now Arum and Roksa are back, and their new book follows the same cohort of undergraduates through the rest of their college careers and out into the working world. Built on interviews and detailed surveys of almost a thousand recent college graduates from a diverse range of colleges and universities, Aspiring Adults Adrift reveals a generation facing a difficult transition to adulthood. Recent graduates report trouble finding decent jobs and developing stable romantic relationships, as well as assuming civic and financial responsibility—yet at the same time, they remain surprisingly hopeful and upbeat about their prospects. Analyzing these findings in light of students’ performance on standardized tests of general collegiate skills, selectivity of institutions attended, and choice of major, Arum and Roksa not only map out the current state of a generation too often adrift, but enable us to examine the relationship between college experiences and tentative transitions to adulthood. Sure to be widely discussed, Aspiring Adults Adrift will compel us once again to re-examine the aims, approaches, and achievements of higher education.
An ambitious, comprehensive reimagining of 21st century higher education

Improving Quality in American Higher Education outlines the fundamental concepts and competencies society demands from today's college graduates, and provides a vision of the future for students, faculty, and administrators. Based on a national, multidisciplinary effort to define and measure learning outcomes—the Measuring College Learning project—this book identifies 'essential concepts and competencies' for six disciplines. These essential concepts and competencies represent efforts towards articulating a consensus among faculty in biology, business, communication, economics, history, and sociology—disciplines that account for nearly 40 percent of undergraduate majors in the United States. Contributions from thought leaders in higher education, including Ira Katznelson, George Kuh, and Carol Geary Schneider, offer expert perspectives and persuasive arguments for the need for greater clarity, intentionality, and quality in U.S. higher education.

College faculty are our best resource for improving the quality of undergraduate education. This book offers a path forward based on faculty perspectives nationwide:Clarify program structure and aimsArticulate high-quality learning goalsRigorously measure student progressPrioritize higher order competencies and disciplinarily grounded conceptual understandings

A culmination of over two years of efforts by faculty and association leaders from six disciplines, this book distills the national conversation into a delineated set of fundamental ideas and practices, and advocates for the development and use of rigorous assessment tools that are valued by faculty, students, and society. Improving Quality in American Higher Education brings faculty voices to the fore of the conversation and offers an insightful look at the state of higher education, and a realistic strategy for better serving our students.

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