College is too easy for its own good

College is too easy for its own good, write Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, authors of Academically Adrift, in the LA Times.

Colleges have abandoned responsibility for shaping students’ academic development and instead have come to embrace a service model that caters to satisfying students’ expressed desires.

Full-time college students spend half as much time studying as they did in 1960, according to labor economists. Many students manage to get by without doing much reading or writing — or learning, they write.

Moreover, from 1970 to 2000, as colleges increasingly hired additional staff to attend to student social and personal needs, the percentage of professional employees in higher education who were faculty decreased from about two-thirds to around one-half. At the same time, through their professional advancement and tenure policies, schools encouraged faculty to focus more on research rather than teaching. When teaching was considered as part of the equation, student course assessments tended to be the method used to evaluate teaching, which tends to incentivize lenient grading and entertaining forms of instruction.

If true, colleges are doomed, writes Darren on Right on the Left Coast.

Certainly, there are cheaper ways for young people to find beer-and-pizza mates.

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  1. I’ve met many people who deplore the state of American k-12 ed but who console themselves with the notion that our colleges are “the best in the world”. Another comforting delusion, akin to “Asians are not creative”.

  2. Foobarista says:

    My cynical take is that colleges, particularly “selective” universities, have realized that their main value-add to the marketplace is their admissions letters, as well as providing several years of networking opportunities. With the exception of a few technical majors, actual learning is largely not relevant.

    Given this, it makes sense to de-emphasize studying in favor of fancy gyms and lots of opportunities to party.

  3. College has been easy since the 60s when I was an undergraduate. It has only gotten easier since then, especially in the last 15-20 years. As a longtime prof, the message has been made clear for many years–you don’t have students, professor, you have customers. Those profs who play in the sandbox with the customers lead a trouble-free existence until retirement. Those who do not are always under fire.

  4. When the customer base changes, the product changes. Back in the days when most university students were aiming for the clergy, curriculum was heavy on Latin, Greek, philosophy, theology, etc. When university training became necessary to enter the more hands-on professions, old-timers were upset. Now, curriculum is changing not to accomodate different career goals, but to make room for the middle third of high school graduates. We can argue about whether this is a good thing and an efficient use of resources, but what we can’t do is turn back the clock. I do think that, if we are dealing with a student population that resists homework and out-of-class reading/writing, it would make sense to build more internships into the curriculum (as is done in Engineering to some extent) so that more time is spent on learning and less on partying.

  5. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    “… but to make room for the middle third of high school graduates.”

    Yeah, but why?

  6. Thinly, because a high school diploma doesn’t mean that the student is ready for many of the jobs that are out there. So, OK, they need more preparation. That could happen by changin high school (good luck with that) or changing post-secondary — shortening it, making it more hands-on, etc.

  7. “Now, curriculum is changing not to accomodate different career goals, but to make room for the middle third of high school graduates.”

    Uh, uh. Curriculum changed for the middle third starting in the 80s.Now, it’s changing to accommodate those in the lower third. I know. They come to my college.