Wednesday, March 9, 2011

College Concerns

A recent column by Bob Herbert in the New York Times looked at a new book that revealed some troubling data about what students get out of their time in college. The book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,was written by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, based upon a study they conducted under the auspices of the Social Science Research Council and its collaborators.

The book's thesis is that not only are students enrolling in college ill prepared to do serious learning, but that they do not generally improve their acquisition of knowledge or skills, in large part because they spend little time studying and devote a significant amount of their time and energies to social pursuits that are not connected to academics. And much of the blame, the book's authors believe, is due to the failure of colleges to demand the kind of academic rigor that would require students to take their studies more seriously. The book looks at financial factors and campus cultures that impact the kind of teaching and expectations that foster the limited academic growth and make the point that the grades of these students have not dropped substantially, even as actual learning and acquisition of critical thinking skills has declined.

Bob Herbert expresses his concern with the impact this "skating by" has on our country's role in the world and notes that too many students are leaving college without necessary skills. "The students who don’t develop them may leave college with a degree and an expanded circle of friends, but little more," Herbert notes.

As we work with college bound students and those already enrolled in college, we have noted one relevant, anecdotal factor: students in small colleges tend to be less likely to get lost in the crowd and often find it easier to establish the kind of academic linkages with their professors that lead them to real thinking and learning. It is certainly something to consider when thinking about college choices.

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