Education Editorial: Academically Adrift

By: Bill Bosher - email

About a year and a half ago, two sociology professors from NYU and UVA published a piece that had instant reviews in the New York Times, NPR, and the Chronicle of Higher Education… but its "ending" came as T. S. Eliot would have described, "not with a bang but a whimper."

Its title is "Academically Adrift", and it is a study of what 2300 students learned while in college.

Have you heard about it? Probably not!!

The authors used the Collegiate Learning Assessment to measure the gain of students in critical thinking, analytic reasoning, and other "higher level" skills that are expected to be taught in college.

The study reflected that 45% of the students had no gain in the first two years, and 36% of the students had no improvement in four years. The authors also report that where there is gain it is minimal.

"How much are students actually learning in contemporary higher education? The answer for many undergraduates, we have concluded, is not much."

Also noted was that "drifting through college without a clear sense of purpose is readily apparent."

Equally amazing is that the authors concluded that the number 1 reason for this poor performance is a lack of rigor.

First, who is asking questions about academic accountability in higher education? Second, as the Wall Street Journal describes student debt as the next mortgage debacle, who is studying cost benefit? Finally, as parents drive away from campus for the first time, are they leaving not only their son or daughter but also their sense of responsibility?

Perhaps they need us more when they are out of sight!!

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