Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Is our college students learning?

I have only just started Academically Adrift, the new book about the lack of learning at colleges that is getting a lot—though not enough—attention. I will have more to say when I am done, but I did not want to delay in encouraging you to look at the book and its findings. You can at least start by reading coverage by the Chronicle of Higher Ed and Inside Higher Ed.

In their extensive research, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa found that 45 percent of college students at 24 schools did not learn enough to improve on the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a test of writing and analytical skills, over their first two years. Over four years, 36 percent did not show significant improvement. The authors did not seek to measure subject-matter knowledge.

Experiences were variable across and within institutions, with the general rule that the rich got richer (e.g. achievement gaps persisted, students at selective institutions learned more). Students didn’t do what many of us would consider much reading, writing or studying, especially in education and business majors, whose students improved the least on the CLA. Students who studied with friends improved less than those who studied alone.

Why are students in college: to learn, to socialize, to meet a social norm, to receive a credential? Do they do just what is expected of them, or less, or more? Is there any incentive for their instructors to give meaningful grades or to raise expectations—for example, assigning the kind of intensive reading and writing that the Arum and Roksa study links to greater CLA progress—or even make sure students meet the ones that exist?

Why are education majors falling short in these measures, and what does that mean for the teaching profession?

On a related note, I will be on a panel with Roksa and others next week, talking about coverage of learning on campus, at the American Association of Colleges and Universities meeting in San Francisco, 8:45 a.m. on Friday, January 28. Come join us.

On another related note, can we retire the the mortarboards-flying-through-the-blue-sky book cover already?


  1. I hope you do not mind but your title has a grammatical error in it which I strongly wish to correct. It should read "Are Our College Students Learning?"

  2. You aint gots no problems with you's headline, Linda!