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Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses 1st Edition
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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, forty-five 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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“This provocative study demands attention at all levels, including leaders of higher education, researchers, students, parents, and the general public. It confirms that students who encounter faculty with high expectations and demanding courses tend to learn more than others. Among its most troubling findings are the persistent racial gaps in learning rates during college. The implications of these and other findings should be widely discussed.” -- Adam Gamoran, University of Wisconsin–Madison
“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 Published On: 2011-11-08
“Arum and Roska offer a startling look at the current state of learning in undergraduate circles…. Their work fundamentally challenges the goals of higher education, serving as a text that will make everyone start to think.” -- Tyler Billman, Southeastern Illinois College ― Journal of College Student Retention
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.
- Publisher : University of Chicago Press; 1st edition (January 15, 2011)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 272 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0226028569
- ISBN-13 : 978-0226028569
- Item Weight : 15 ounces
- Dimensions : 0.6 x 5.9 x 8.9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #985,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the authors
Top reviews from the United States
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The main focus of "Academically Adrift" is a standardized test known as the Collegiate Learning Assessment or CLA. This particular study was conducted among 2,300 undergraduate students from 24 different universities across the nation. The CLA is definitely not your typical multiple choice test. Rather, the CLA consists of three open-ended assessment components: a performance task and two analytical writing tasks. The purpose of this test is to try to evaluate a student's critical thinking, analytical reasoning, problem solving and writing skills. And what Arum and Roksa discovered is certainly cause for alarm. Essentially, the results of this study strongly suggest that after two years of college the vast majority of students show precious little improvement in their capacity for critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing. While it is extremely important for students to master the material presented in textbooks and in class shouldn't we expect more from our colleges and universities?
As part of the research project that led to "Academically Adrift" Arum and Roksa also conducted a 26 question survey of the participating students that appears in the appendix of the book. Very revealing indeed! The results of this survey underscores the importance of rigorous coursework requirements, high faculty expectations, time devoted to studying and the potentially negative impact of employment and extracurricular activities. In altogether too many cases academics takes a back seat to working, socializing with friends and participating in campus activities. Too many students seem to buy into the notion of doing the least amount of work just to get by. According to statistics cited by the authors today's students spend considerably less time studying than their peers did 25 and 50 years ago. Furthermore, the study also found that half of students did not take a single course requiring 20 pages of writing during the prior semester and one-third did not take a single course requiring 40 pages of reading per week. Does this sound like college-level work to you? In doing some research for this review I came across a website from Alfred University. In commenting on Arum and Roksa's study an assistant professor of media studies joked "40 pages of what? How much would be gained if I were to assign 40 pages of comic books a week?" As far as I am concerned this is precisely the kind of attitude that we need to change. Trust me, there is an awful to chew on this book and time will simply not permit me to touch on all of the important issues the authors dicuss.
Finally, reading "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning On College Campuses" may also cause you to rethink the whole subject of higher education in America. For example, has the time finally come to discard the "college for all" philosophy that has been in vogue in this country for the past 30 or 40 years? Clearly not everyone belongs in college and buying into this philosophy only serves to prop up an extremely bloated system. When I was in high school guidance counselors served as "gatekeepers" pointing the less academically gifted students in the direction of vocational schools and other career opportunities. Let's face it, there is an awful lot of money to be made in the trades these days. Furthermore, I believe it is time to reexamine the wisdom in taking out college loans in order to finance an education. A shocking number of students never even graduate and are left with nothing but a mountain of debt to show for it. At the same time, many students emerging from four year institutions are not only poorly educated but also find themselves tens of thousands of dollars in debt to boot. I think there is an awful lot of wisdom in going the community college route. And what kind of a market is there for those individuals who choose to major in subjects like "area, ethnic, cultural and gender studies"? If these folks can't find a job please don't blame me or society-at-large. Frankly, we don't want to hear it! Finally, if parents and students make the decision to go to college it is extremely important that the student is fully focused on what he/she really wants to accomplish in school. All too often Arum and Roksa found students who had absolutely no idea what they were doing in college and really were "academically adrift". At the end of the day Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa have given us a very scholarly and well-researched book. Since I am not from academia I found myself struggling with terminology from time to time. "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning On College Campuses" will challenge much of what you believe about higher education in the United States. This is a thought-provoking book that is well-worth your time. Highly recommended!
I think it is significant that this study "was organized by the Social Science Research Council as part of its collaborative partnership with the Pathways to College Network..." It is also significant that it was published by an academic publisher: The University of Chicago Press.
I agree with the authors when they say that restoration of quality in college education will have to result from influences outside the academic system. I think the likely outside influence will be declining popularity of college education as more college graduates find it difficult to find professional level employment.
I gave the book four stars instead of five for the reasons below.
The authors didn't go far enough in their analysis of the problem. Early in the book the authors ask why college faculty members are making their courses less rigorous. They didn't say that it is because some faculty are "buying" student evaluation results with high, undeserved grades. But, they did mention that another study by Valen Johnson showed that favorable "student evaluations of teaching" did not mean that students were learning. Instead these "evaluations" show that students prefer instructors who make courses easy. In fact, administrators who have no responsibility for the quality of college education use these "student evaluations" as a way to blackmail the faculty into giving undeserved passing grades. The blackmail involved is that the faculty member either gets high marks on "student evaluations" or fails to get tenure or promotion. Valen Johnson's study and my experience show that high marks on these "evaluations" from most students will result from giving out high, undeserved grades. I know that the study by Johnson is more applicable to this topic but Arum and Roksa needed to explain the connection between the use of "student evaluations" and the decline in quality of college education.
Near the end of the book, the authors tell us that college administrators are asked to focus their attention only on the bottom line, i.e., the level of enrollment and the amount of revenue from tuition. This is an accurate statement. However, the authors needed to describe some of the actual practices used by administrators to accomplish their goal - at least at schools that are "selective" and "less selective" as to admissions. Most administrators that I have known will do whatever they can to degrade the quality of education for the sake of keeping enrollment as high as possible. These administrators have a role in admitting (to universities) the unmotivated students that the authors describe. They aim to retain as many of these students as possible by making courses as easy as possible. By keeping enrollments high, administrators embellish their resumes for their next job move.
Also near the end of the book, the authors say that coercive accountability will not work in higher education because "the measurement and understanding of learning processes in higher education are considerably underdeveloped." I disagree. We know enough to design appropriate tests of learning. If such tests were used, administrators and faculty members should be held responsible for improving the results. This change in assessment procedure is necessary because the currently popular internal, self-assessment is not leading to improved quality of education. Current self-assessments are made as meaningless as possible because administrators do not require that the tests be a good representation of topics covered in courses and because students usually do not have to pass the tests. This situation with assessment results from the fact that the same people who have degraded college education are now trusted with doing "assessment."
The authors do not discuss all of the groups that have contributed to the decline in quality of college education. Those that aren't discussed are accrediting agencies, boards of governors of university systems, boards of trustees of colleges and universities, faculty unions, and state governments. State government encompasses politicians, university systems, and departments of education.
Finally, the authors lay the blame for the decline in quality of higher education on college administrators, faculty members, and parents of college students. I think one group should be singled out as primarily responsible for the situation: upper level administrators. Over half of faculty members these days are as corrupt as the administrators. But,it is the top level administrators who have the greatest power to affect the quality of education. They have this power through the evaluation processes for faculty members. These evaluation processes lead to decisions on tenure and promotions. Administrators evaluate teaching even though they take no responsibility for quality of education and don't have adequate means to evaluate teaching. These administrators also set the admissions standards for prospective students - the standards that are low except for highly selective institutions. Administrators are motivated by greed and job security concerns to continue empire building by increasing enrollments. I can't see any other explanation for their efforts to degrade the quality of college education.
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The main finding is that more than half the students do not see an improvement on there CLA scores over the first two years of university and so they are academically adrift. Now taking this as a rigorous statistical study I have some problems.
It is very post hoc - First they ideologically assume they are "academically adrift" then they find the evidence. Nowhere is the evidence presented as showing that this drift exists. Evidence is presented the conclusion is drawn but there is no relation between the results and the conclusion - there is no linking discussion as to why this evidence means that they are academically adrift other than this means CLA is not going up. So this raises the question is CLA a good measure? What is it actually measuring? Why doe some subjects do better than others (science for example compared to social care and engineering). So this suggests the test is flawed and subject dependent unless all engineering colleges are rubbish. Second thought in my mind is, this is a scientific paper so why is it not in a peer reviewed journal? Why is it in a book where it cannot be rejected as methodologically unsound? The third worrying factor is why are there two authors when each chapter says oh X helped to write this. So it doesn't have 2 authors it has five authors but three are research assistants and so they don't count in the world of academia.
Given all of these methodological and to my mind ethical problems with the way the book is written there is one further weakness. The authors seem to fit into the traditionalist school of education. School is there for discipline and to instil morals etc. The book actually has striking similarities to the "Black Books" arguments about education from the UK in the 1970s. So from a Haidt perspective this desire for authority morality and respect puts the authors on the conservative part of the spectrum. Now this might or might not be the right way to educate but there is another view, that of the progressives (I confess I am on that side). These liberals believe that personal development is more important and that students need to find their own way - so if they are adrift that is because they are exploring. Now progressives are not new (Plato was one) but education moves between the liberal and conservative approaches almost continuously. This is why the book to me feels like the authors had decided what it was going to find before they even looked at the data.