Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses

This book by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa draws on their extensive research. It shows that many undergraduates learn little or nothing when it comes to critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing ability. The main reasons are generally poor academic preparation prior to college, and low expectations and demands in college. Rather than close the gap between high and low performing students, a case can be made that colleges increase the disparity.

Academically Adrift

  • Limited Learning on College Campuses
  • by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa
  • ©2011, University of Chicago Press: Chicago, Illinois
  • Summary by Douglas W. Green, EdD
  • DGreen@STNY.RR.Com
  • If you like this summary, buy the book.

Arum and Roksa

  • Richard Arum is a 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.
  • The book addresses the question of how much undergraduates learn once they get to college. The answer here is not much. Richard and Josipa draw on their own research and many other sources to make their point. They find that a significant proportion of students do not improve when it comes to critical thinking, complex reasoning, or writing ability. This comes as no surprise to many who see students distracted by socializing and employment. They also see an institutional culture that puts undergraduate learning near the bottom of the priority list.

1. College Cultures and Student Learning

  • Arum and Roksa cite the worry of middle-class parents over return on investment and concerns about quality by businesses as they look at college cultures that today feature more social activity and less time studying. Too many enter college with high ambitions and no clear plans for reaching them. They know little of their chosen occupations in terms of requirements of demands. They are essentially academically adrift. While study time is down to less than what they spent in high school, grades and progress toward degrees have seen little impact. Students preferentially enroll in classes where instructors grade leniently. For their part, faculty members allow students to get by with less effort. This brings better student evaluations and opens more time for research. Such evaluations are not good indicators of learning. Faculty are also rewarded for seeking external funding of which there is never enough at the expense of undergraduate attention. Administrators must also share the blame. An increase in student service positions has driven faculty percentage of professional staff down to 53%. At the same time, salaries of presidents, provosts, and deans has gone way up in spit of the fact that they are much less able to influence institutional climate than top executives in businesses.
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