Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Academically Adrift

I'm eager to read Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses which was written by a professor at New York University and another at the University of Virginia.

Here's a few key points from the book listed in my local newspaper:

Student tracking finds limited learning in college

Half of students did not take a single course requiring 20 pages of writing during their prior semester, and one-third did not take a single course requiring even 40 pages of reading per week.

After four years, 36 percent of students did not demonstrate significant improvement, compared with 45 percent after two.

Students who studied alone, read and wrote more, attended more selective schools and chose traditional arts and sciences majors posted greater learning gains.

Social engagement generally does not help student performance.

Students who spent more time studying with peers showed diminishing growth. (So much for the touted benefit of "group" projects.)

Students who spent more time in the Greek system had decreased rates of learning. (Isn't that a shocker!)

Here's a link to the study that backs up their claims: What Will They Learn, A Report on General Education Requirements at 100 of the Nation’s Leading Colleges and Universities by American Council of Trustees and Alumni, 2009.


Michael McIntyre said...

ACTA is trying to claim that their system of ranking in "What Will They Learn" is supported by Arum and Roksa's study, but they're full of hot air. ACTA ranks colleges according to whether or not they have required courses in seven separate areas. Arum and Roksa say nothing to support a specific required curriculum in order to foster the kind of learning that the Collegiate Learning Assessment tests. Their conclusion is that students learn when (a) they spend sufficient time studying alone, and (b) they take courses that require at least forty pages of reading per week AND at least twenty pages of writing per semester.

Moreover, there's good evidence that the folks at ACTA don't believe their own rankings. According to ACTA's ranking, Harvard gets a D, while much less prestigious institutions (such as East Tennessee State University) get an A. So, do you think that the director of ACTA, Anne Neal, sent her daughter to one of the "A" schools? Oh, no! Her daughter Alexandra went to Harvard, just like her mother.

Nonetheless, the politically motivated propagandists at ACTA shouldn't dissuade you from reading Academically Adrift, a book that is far removed from the world of propaganda. Their research is good, and is consistent with my own experience as a program director at my university. We've been doing the things Arum and Roska promote, and we believe they work. Our students read 100-200 pages a week, almost all of our classes require more than twenty pages of writing, and 60% of them study two hours for every hour they spend in class (compared to the average of less than one hour that Arum and Roska found). Of course Anne Neal wouldn't like us, because we don't share her politics.

For parents contemplating sending your kids off to college and worried about this study, there is a simple answer: make it clear to your kids that you expect them to take tough classes and work hard rather than majoring in beer pong. If they don't, cut off their money and send them to work for a few years until they're ready to go back and do the work.

Janine Cate said...

Thanks for the background info.

Crimson Wife said...

FWIW, over 50% of Rhodes Scholars are members of a fraternity or sorority. One of my sorority sisters was a Rhodes finalist. Our chapter had to maintain an overall average of 3.0 in order to remain in good standing with the university.