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Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses [Hardcover]

by Richard Arum, Josipa Roksa
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 15, 2011 0226028550 978-0226028552

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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Editorial Reviews

Review

“A decade ago the United States led the world in the number of college graduates. Today this is no longer the case. Academically Adrift raises serious questions about the quality of the academic and social experiences of college students. Armed with extensive data and comprehensive analyses, the authors provide a series of compelling solutions for how colleges can reverse the tide and renew their emphases on learning. This first-rate book demonstrates why colleges, like K–12 institutions, now more than ever require major reforms to sustain our democratic society.” (Barbara Schneider, Michigan State University)

“This might be the most important book on higher education in a decade. Combined with students’ limited effort and great disparities in benefits among students, Arum and Roksa’s findings raise questions that should have been raised long ago about who profits from college and what colleges need to do if they are to benefit new groups of students. In this new era of college for all, their analysis refocuses our attention on higher education’s fundamental goals.”
(James Rosenbaum, Northwestern University)

"A damning indictment of the American higher-education system."
(Chronicle of Higher Education)

“It’s hard to think of a study in the last decade that has had a bigger impact on public discourse about higher education and the internal workings of colleges and universities alike than has Academically Adrift.”
(Doug Lederman Inside Higher Education)

“The time, money, and effort that’s required to educate college students helps explain why the findings are so shocking in a new blockbuster book—Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses—that argues that many students aren't learning anything.”

(U.S. News & World Report)

“For a short book, it takes a major step towards evidence-based assessment of student learning. . . . All university managers might like to read 40 pages of this book a week for the next five weeks and produce a 20-page report on ‘Countering Academic Drift: Developing Critical Thinking in the University.’”

(Times Higher Education)

“Whatever criticism this book provokes in the higher-education establishment, its value is enormous. The disconcerting findings of Arum and Roksa should resonate well beyond the academy.”

(Wilson Quarterly)

“Despite the book’s moderate proposals, some critics have painted this book as misguided punditry. Readers of Teacher-Scholar, however, would be remiss not to take this book seriously. Arum and Roska’s use and analysis of CLA data, although sometimes flawed, lift this book out of punditry and into serious scholarship. They show that almost half of college students do not improve on important skills that they should gain in their first years in college, and they convincingly connect this problem to the lack of academic rigor at many universities. Likewise, although their recommendations for more accountability are vague and incomplete, they raise an important question about whether we are entering a new era where the federal government or accrediting agencies will find new ways to hold universities accountable for learning outcomes. The future regulatory environment is uncertain and faculty members and administrators should take note of the growing critique of higher learning as well as these new conversations about accountability.” 
(Matthew Johnson Teacher Scholar)

“Before reading this book, I took it for granted that colleges were doing a very good job.” 
(Bill Gates)

“Seriously researched, rich in data, and sometimes adorned with dozens of tables that the uninitiated may find cryptic, works like…Academically Adrift (2011) by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa focus on particular aspects of the system. They excavate a world of ugly facts and unsatisfactory practices that has the gritty look and feel of reality—a reality that has little to do with the glossy hype of world university ratings….In Academically Adrift, Arum and Roksa paint a chilling portrait of what the university curriculum has become.”—New York Review of Books
(Anthony Grafton The New York Review of Books 2011-11-08)

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.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (January 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226028550
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226028552
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,029,893 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
99 of 103 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and Alarming February 1, 2011
By Charles
Format:Paperback
The authors' research and observations confirm what I see as very disturbing trends as I teach courses that involve complex, critical reasoning, and as I follow the experiences of current and recent undergraduates. Each year there has been a very noticeable decline in preparation for higher-level thinking. The students I encounter increasingly expect that they can succeed academically with shallow thinking and little effort by employing the social and strategic credential management skills that the authors describe. Those who seek a more meaningful intellectual experience feel surrounded.

The authors' observations about the importance of studious solitude and its increasing scarcity have obvious implications about the evolution of academic life. But I wonder if it is even worse than they describe. For example, the study hours they include in their data may be overly generous. Today, even those who want to learn and sit down to "study" are likely to be immersed in social media and other consumptive diversions. Students have many ways to avoid sinking into the depths of a subject or struggling with well-developed analytical writing, as the authors note. They rarely get honest and helpful criticism aimed at their individual intellectual and ethical development. I fear that the authors' important observations are only the tip of the iceberg. I hope that earnest students will read this book and set their own course.
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193 of 217 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Bombshell! January 21, 2011
Format:Paperback
This book couldn't be more potentially explosive if its contents were 100% highly-enriched uranium; unfortunately, the vested interests realize this and are already hard at work smothering the authors' findings. Authors Richard Arum (sociology and education professor at New York University) and Josipa Roksa (professor of sociology at the University of Virginia) studied over 2,000 undergraduates from Fall 2005 to Spring 2009 at two dozen universities (large public flagship institutions, highly selective liberal-arts colleges, and institutions that historically serve blacks and Hispanics). They determined that 45% "demonstrated no significant gains in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and written communications during the first two years of college," and 36% showed no improvement over the entire four years. Including dropouts would have made the findings even worse. Further, those that did improve did so only modestly on average - eg. moving from the 50th percentile to the 68th in those four years. These findings severely undermine President Obama's proposal to boost the proportion of U.S. college graduates from 40% to 60% in ten years, parents' sacrifices to send their children to college, students incurring crushing amounts of college debt, and the rationale for average tuitions now having risen to 257% of their 1986 levels.

The author's assessment was made using the respected 'Collegiate Learning Assessment' (CLA) from the Council for Aid to Education.
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Arum and Roksa mean this book as a strong indictment of the American undergraduate experience. The report received a lot of media attention when released in early 2011. Its headline findings are that undergraduates experience essentially no improvement in critical thinking in their first two years of college, and a much smaller improvement over four years than we would expect. There are two broad exceptions: elite national universities; and classes that require more than 40 pages of reading a week and more than 20 pages of writing a semester.

It's important to recognize that Arum and Roksa stack the deck, by defining "learning" in ways that advantage students in the humanities and social sciences. Engineering schools train students in a different way of thinking rigorously and solving problems. Pre-med programs cram student brains with facts. Both evaluate their students with difficult exams leading to professional certification. It's fair to say that neither Arum nor Roksa could pass those professional exams, which demonstrates that these students have learned a lot along the way.

I'd like to see a subsequent study that gets at the problem-solving skills that we expect of engineers or medical diagnosticians, and see how well economists or English majors solve similar problems in their own area of substantive knowledge. Certainly good grad students in the various fields I know can solve problems effectively, but undergrads are a mixed bag.

Setting that aside, there is a lot of provocative material here. When we look at their preferred measure, "critical learning," students in math, science, social sciences and the humanities do make progress. Business students, or those in social work and (ahem) education - - not so much.
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85 of 102 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is well written and analyzed (with good use of controls, etc.), and the findings are fascinating, though, unfortunately, not really surprising. The most significant problem is their mainly unexamined use of the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) to measure "learning." They devote just a paragraph to discussions of the problems with CLA, with no mention, for instance, of Trudy Banta's insightful criticisms. So its arguments that certain groups of students fail to make gains at the rates of other groups are interesting and even useful, but these "gains" are gains of improvement in standardized testing. That's not necessarily the same as learning generally conceived.

Also because they surveyed students at only 20 schools, they are unable to say whether certain schools do a better job than others at fostering gains. For instance, do liberal arts colleges (there are two) do better? Do some schools perform better?

And they criticize surveys like the National Survey of Student Engagement because, as they ask, can we really depend on a self-report surveys to accurately measure learning, because respondents' memories are fallible. (Of course, that's true.) But they themselves depend on self-report surveys by students to describe which student-reported activities lead to more learning.

The book is worth buying, but one has to wonder whether their methods and findings warrant an entire book. Then again, it might take the publication of a book to engender the huge media coverage the study has received. And maybe that's a good thing. Higher education needs to pay more attention to teaching and learning, and this book brings that issue to public attention.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Realistic but Easy to Read
The concepts and conclusions are based on empirical evidence. And, it is written in simple language--a comprehensive description of the problems in higher education, USA.
Published 1 month ago by Irene Little
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting read; Thoughtful recommendations
I started reading this when it was first published. I just finished it and the delay helped me appreciate the authors' call for action. Read more
Published 3 months ago by I. M. Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars Assessment of what students produce
Intelligent book, based on research of learning in Colleges. The Authors express themselves as unsatisfied with actual assessment of student performance in Colleges - they want to... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Pedro Demo
3.0 out of 5 stars Academically Adrift
Just a bit too much statistics for me. Wow.
Hard to get my teeth into but that's just me.
I am a firm believer that you get out of college what you put into it and I... Read more
Published 7 months ago by JAMG
4.0 out of 5 stars Undergraduate learning is peripheral for students, faculty and...
Just because we want more people who are good at thinking about difficult and complex problems, think abstractly, and who can explain themselves well, it does not follow that we... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Jordan Bell
5.0 out of 5 stars Arum hits the nail on the head.
Provides excellent research on the challenges faced by college faculty in the 21st century. Recommend for every academic facing academic adrift issues covered in the book,... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Eugene Fram
5.0 out of 5 stars Instructors request
This was a good price for the instructor. He got lots of use out of this book. Great deal. Awesome
Published 12 months ago by Ndn_angle!
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent but very depressing book about higher education
This book nicely explains many problems with contemporary higher education. Students aren't learning. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Dylan
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid research dispels myths
Based on a study that primarily used two assessment tools - the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and Collegeiate Learning Assessment (CLA) - the authors demonstrate... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Stuart Bloom
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for all educators
Arum has written an accessible, fascinating, and interesting book that should be read by all involved in education. Read more
Published 15 months ago by RUHU
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Anyone else actually take this test?
Thanks to the poster! This an interesting comment form an individual with a uniquely-qualified perspective. Yes, it is "anecdotal" but nonetheless cannot be simply "dismissed".

Any one else who participates in this study care to add comments?

Also what did this person...
Aug 22, 2011 by B. F. Mooney |  See all 2 posts
Any word on a kindle edition?
It's available now...
Feb 14, 2011 by PeterM |  See all 2 posts
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