‘Adrift’ after college

People who didn’t learn much in college don’t do well as graduates, concludes a follow-up report by the authors of the controversial Academically Adrift study. Graduates who scored in the bottom quintile on the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), a test of thinking skills, were more likely to be unemployed and living with their parents, compared to graduates in the top quintile, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education in ‘Adrift’ in Adulthood.

Thirty-six percent of undergraduates showed no gains in “critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication skills,” concluded sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa in the earlier study, which became a book. Arum and Roksa surveyed more than 900 of the “Adrift” students to see how they fared after college.

The students scoring in the bottom quintile were three times more likely than those in the top quintile to be unemployed (9.6 percent compared with 3.1 percent), twice as likely to be living at home with parents (35 percent compared with 18 percent), and significantly more likely to have amassed credit-card debt (51 percent compared with 37 percent).

Top-quintile students also were more likely to say they follow the news and discuss politics.

That suggests “the general higher-order skills” tested by the CLA are “real and meaningful,” Arum said.

Though business majors didn’t show much growth on the CLA — and didn’t spend much time studying in college — they were the most likely to find full-time jobs. “Perhaps it’s going to catch up to them down the road,” Arum said.

Best college books of 2011

The best books on higher education of 2011, as chosen by a panel picked by Minding the Campus, are Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa; and Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College by Andrew Ferguson.

Academically Adrift, which Richard Vedder called “devastating:” and “the most significant book on higher education written in recent years,” tracks the academic gains (or non-gains) of 2,300 students at a range of four-year colleges and universities. The students took the Collegiate Learning Assessment (which is designed to measure gains in critical thinking, analytic reasoning and other “higher level” skills taught at college).

Among the results: 45 percent of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” during the first two years of college. A total of 36 percent “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” over four years of college. And those students who do show improvements tend to show only modest ones.

Four books drew three votes from the 10-member panel: In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic by Professor X; The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters by Benjamin Ginsberg; The Faculty Lounges and Other Reasons Why You Won’t Get the College Education You Pay For by Naomi Schaefer Riley; and The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out by Clayton M. Christensen and Henry J. Eyring.

Rick Perry as higher-ed visionary

Rick Perry Is A Higher-Education Visionary. Seriously. So argues Kevin Carey in The New Republic.

The Texas governor is urging university leaders to implement “Seven Breakthrough Solutions for reforming higher education developed by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Taken together, the seven solutions are remarkably student-friendly. Four of them focus on improving the quality of university teaching by developing new methods of evaluating teaching performance, tying tenure to success in the classroom, separating the teaching and research functions within university budgets, and using teaching budgets to reward professors who excel at helping students learn. The fifth solution would give prospective students choosing colleges more information about things like class size, graduation rates, and earnings in the job market after graduation. The sixth would make state higher education subsidies more student-focused, and the seventh would shift university accreditation toward measures of academic outcomes.

University teaching is often terrible, writes Carey.  Many students learn very little, the Academically Adrift study found.

Some professors don’t do much teaching or research.  “At UT-Austin, one group of 1,748 mostly-tenured professors, representing 44 percent of the faculty, generated 54 percent of institutional costs, taught only 27 percent of students, and brought in no external research funding whatsoever.”

Nearly all Texas Democrats have denounced Perry’s plans, Carey writes.

The left-learning Texas Monthly declared that “Rick Perry is waging an undeclared war on higher education.”

. . . The problems that Perry is trying to solve — bad teaching, unaccountable public institutions, soaring college costs — disproportionately hurt the first generation, low-income, and minority students that liberals should be most interested in helping. His call to disrupt traditional business models with low-cost, technology-driven alternatives reflects the ethos of the netroots movement that has come to dominate progressive politics. Yet one Firedoglake writer opined that Perry was “casually sacrificing the human pursuit of knowledge to the gods of a craven capitalism.”

Research universities “are established, wealthy, powerful, and determined to stay that way,” Carey writes. “Progressives tend to be enthusiastic about sticking it to every available Man other than the one who conferred their prized college degree.”

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.

College students help design classes

Students are helping design classes at McDaniel College in Maryland, reports the Baltimore Sun.

“I think we learned how much they crave structure,” says Gretchen McKay, an art history professor.

“If you just said, ‘Do a 20-page paper and turn it in at the end of the semester,’ they’d be out to sea.”

In response, McKay and her students added checkpoints throughout the semester. Students had to propose ideas for their final papers before spring break. Last week, they had to deliver presentations on their research. They will next turn in drafts several weeks before the finished papers are due.

“I had dropped research papers from some of my classes altogether,” McKay says. “But now, I realize that I just wasn’t doing it in a structured enough way.”

Worried about students who are “academically adrift,” professors are trying to engage students in their own learning.

Measuring academic drift

College students should learn more than analytical thinking, writes psychologist Robert Sternberg in response to the Academically Adrift study showing many students don’t progress in two or even four years in college on the Collegiate Learning Assessment. But would an assessment of “creative thinking, practical thinking (the ability to apply knowledge) or wise and ethical thinking” show better results?

Does college make you smarter?

Does college make you smarter? Not so much, say respondents on the New York Times’ Room for Debate.

First there was the news that students in American universities study a lot less than they used to. Now we hear, in a recent book titled Academically Adrift, that 45 percent of the nation’s undergraduates learn very little in their first two years of college.

After four years of college, 36 percent of students showed no improvement in reasoning or writing skills, according to sociologists Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia. Students majoring in humanities, social sciences, math and natural sciences learned more than students in pre-professional fields such as education, business and social work. In addition, students who took courses that required significant reading and writing were more likely to show learning gains.

Most college students want “a credential attesting to their employability, accompanied by as much fun as possible,” writes George Leef of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.  They didn’t work hard in high school and expect college to be just as easy.

Intellectually vapid courses and programs that will attract customers have proliferated. Professors who would rather devote their time to their own career-advancing research projects often strike an implicit deal with their students: don’t expect much of my time and I’ll keep the course easy and the grades high.

By making it easier for students to borrow money, the federal government is luring “more marginal students into college, further increasing the pressure to lower standards,” Leef adds.

It has been accurately said that college is the new high school; the way we are going, soon it will be the new middle school.

Students aren’t interested in learning, writes Gaye Tuchman, a sociology professor at the University of Connecticut. Nearly all want to know, “Will I be able to get a job?”

Today’s college students average 14 hours a week of study time compared to 24 hours a week for students in the 1960s, writes Philip Babcock, an economics professor at University of California at Santa Barbara.  Thinking requires more effort than most colleges require.