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Bill Gates (CEO / Microsoft)
The most troubling reading I did on vacation was Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, by two sociologists, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, who examine the evidence on what college students actually learn. I was surprised how little data there is on this important question. Even more disturbing, the data cited by the authors indicates that students may not learn very much. In their first two years of college, many U.S. college students advance very little in important skills like critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing.
I was really surprised to read that. The data shows that students today spend much less time actually studying, and they take less rigorous courses, most of which don’t require them to do much writing, for example. And yet even so, many students do not complete their degrees. Graduation rates from U.S. colleges are much lower than in many other countries. What’s going on in higher educationis a topic I care a lot about, and I basically agree with the authors’ findings that we have a real problem. I plan to take a deeper dive into this topic with a full review of Academically Adrift, which I’ll post in a few weeks.
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, 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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