IS A UNIVERSITY EDUCATION A WASTE OF TIME?
US study suggests that for some al least it is precisely that
A new book, “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses” (University of Chicago Press) by a professor at New York University and another at the University of Virginia, suggest reason for concern about the quality of education on offer at US universities . Almost everyone strives to go to College and make sacrifices along the way, 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. In the book, and in an accompanying study, the authors followed more than 2,300 undergraduates at two dozen universities, and concluded that 45 percent “demonstrated no significant gains in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and written communications during the first two years of college.” The universities are not identified — the authors only say they represent “a wide range” of the nation’s approximately 2,000 four-year institutions — but the yardstick against which such judgments are made is the Collegiate Learning Assessment a standardized test that is essay-based and open-ended. (It is worth noting that in measuring broad analytic and problem-solving skills, the exam does not assess how much students concentrating in particular majors — physics or psychology, for example — have learned in their respective fields of study.)They found that 32 percent of the students whom they followed did not, in a typical semester, take “any courses with more than 40 pages of reading per week” and that 50 percent “did not take a single course in which they wrote more than 20 pages over the course of the semester.” In this respect, the authors’ research is consistent with the findings of the National Survey of Student Engagement which has polled more than 2 million students at more than 1,000 colleges and universities over more than a decade — and reported that many spend little time studying or writing. Arum and Roksa argue that for many faculty staff and administrators this 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. Are our universities much different, one wonders?