Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses

More Findings

  • Time spent studying and enrollment in courses requiring more reading and writing follows the same pattern. The better students study more and take more demanding course work. Again we see the rich getting richer in terms of learning. There has also been a shift of student majors from liberal arts, which require more reading and writing, to practical arts, which require less. Students who participate in clubs, fraternities, and sororities are more likely to stay in school. Living in dorms also seems to help. Comfort with middle-class culture and access to money contributes here.
  • When it comes to finances, more students rely on loans as college costs outpace inflation. Students from poorer, less educated families borrow more. These same students are also more likely to work during college and don’t always take advantage of available financial support. Students also borrow to support a life style they couldn’t otherwise afford. Some even fall prey to credit companies and borrow much more than they should.
  • 4. Channeling Students’ Energies Toward Learning

    • Be it kindergarten or college, the preexisting differences students bring give advantages and disadvantages relative to their peers. As such, it would seem that colleges operate as sorting mechanisms. The most relevant factor other than academic preparation according to this study is the expectations of the faculty. Students learn more when teachers expect more. This results in students spending more time studying and doing homework, which has positive effects on learning. Studying alone proved to make a difference while studying with peers did not. This is due to the fact that conditions for group learning in colleges rarely meet the standards advocated by cooperative learning scholars. Faculty lacks experience or formal training in this area. Working on campus is also better than working off campus. In this chapter the authors also look at differences between fields of study. While students in science/math and social science/humanities do better on the CLA, factors like academic preparation, expectations of post graduate studies, and the nature of the institution are also in play.

    Funding Sources, Black/White Gap, & Institutional Quality

  • A look at sources of student funding reports a positive relationship between the amount of grant and scholarship funding and performance on the CLA. The percentage of funding from loans, however, has no relationship. The data used shows that two-thirds of the gap between African-American and white performance can be explained by the college experiences and institutions attended. The rest of the gap may be due to the oppositional culture African-Americans experience growing up and the “stereotype threat” which causes underperformance due to fear of confirming the negative stereotype. The data, however, supports neither theory. The authors are convinced that institutions make a difference, but note that the 24 institutions studied represents a small sample. They note that attending a top institution is no guarantee that a student will learn much and that high performers do show up at non selective colleges. They find that college experiences and institutions attended make almost as much difference as prior academic preparation. They encourage all colleges to “look within.”
  • 5. A Mandate for Reform

    • Reform needs to start in K-12 schools. Our obsessive reliance on standardized test scores deters teachers and students from concentrating on developing a love of learning that will lead to self-maintained learning. Strong leadership is necessary. Leaders must engage the community and spread the vision. Faculty share a collective responsibility to address the issue. The fact that they often don’t receive formal training on teaching is an issue that some colleges address. It is clear from this study what needs to be done. If only some raise expectations and demands, they could be disadvantaged by student evaluations and enrollment. Left to their own devices, employees with resist change. The authors are skeptical that externally imposed accountability can work as college educators are likely to resist it in persuasive manners. At this time, federal money is largely used to support research with very little used to improve instruction. The authors see reform as a moral imperative that should encourage colleges to voluntarily commit to improving undergraduate education. Otherwise, employers dissatisfied with the quality of undergraduate education will continue to look to graduate schools and foreign sources.
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