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.

Does the college essay suck the life out of boys?

Does the College Essay Suck the Life Out of Boys? asks Dr. Helen on PJ Media’s Lifestyle.

She’s reading Andrew Ferguson’s Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College. Ferguson describes his son’s struggle to write a politically correct admissions essay.

Many of the colleges ask for an essay about the student’s “inner life”–usually a buzz word for some kind of sappy self-absorbed nonsense where the student “took a risk” of some kind and went on to become a better person or some variation of that theme.

The son, who thought his inner life was his own business, finally wrote about passing a swimming test in camp that others could not.

In the essay, the son wrote that he was “tired but proud; he sympathized with his classmates who hadn’t finished and in his victory, accepted modestly, he learned the timeless value of persistence and determination, expressed with grim earnestness…”

But his father knew the truth: “which was the masculine truth. He didn’t remember the race because it proved the timeless value of persistence. He remembered the victory because it was a victory: he had competed against this classmates, friends and rivals alike, and beaten them soundly and undeniably, and earned the right to a sack dance in the end zone. He knew he couldn’t say this, though, and I knew he was right.”

Colleges don’t want critical thinking, concludes Dr. Helen. They don’t want “passion.” They want wimps — or boys pretending to be wimps.

I bet admissions officers are bored out of their skulls by the humble, persistent, lesson-learning, PC applicant. I got a thank you note from Stanford’s admissions director for writing a funny essay. And he let me in. But who wants to risk it?