Are Undergraduates Learning Anything?

04 Education

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Drawing on survey responses, transcript data, and results from the Collegiate Learning Assessment (a standardized test taken by students in their first semester and at the end of their second year), Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa concluded that a significant percentage of undergraduates are failing to develop the broad-based skills and knowledge they should be expected to master. Here is an excerpt from Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (University of Chicago Press), their new book based on those findings.

“With regard to the quality of research, we tend to evaluate faculty the way the Michelin guide evaluates restaurants,” Lee Shulman, former president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, recently noted. “We ask, ‘How high is the quality of this cuisine relative to the genre of food? How excellent is it?’ With regard to teaching, the evaluation is done more in the style of the Board of Health. The question is, ‘Is it safe to eat here?'” Our research suggests that for many students currently enrolled in higher education, the answer is: not particularly. Growing numbers of students are sent to college at increasingly higher costs, but for a large proportion of them the gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and written communication are either exceedingly small or empirically nonexistent. At least 45 percent of students in our sample did not demonstrate any statistically significant improvement in Collegiate Learning Assessment [CLA] performance during the first two years of college. [Further study has indicated that 36 percent of students did not show any significant improvement over four years.]

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