So much of the education debate in the US has focused on high school graduate rates and college preparedness that Academically Adrift gave a kind of shock to the collective system when its authors claimed to demonstrate that most students learn very little when they actually get to college. More than a year later, sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s book seems to have to have held fast, establishing what is now widely regarded as an important critique of the higher education industry, which the book claims serves two classes of students quite differently, those who are prepared, and come ready and able to educate themselves, and those who aren’t, can’t, and don’t.
What Chronicle columnist Kevin Carey misses emphasizing in his otherwise excellent column calling for increased focus on studying learning outcomes at the college-level is that there seems to be little public awareness that there are two classes of not only students but of the qualities of higher education offered to them. Academically Adrift‘s depiction of President King of Walden College as the quintessential cynic on the value of a college education underscores this unpleasant truth, when King suggests that parents (and students) are happy with mediocre educations so long as the basic expected credentialing happens.
Which is why the learning outcomes research for which Carey calls should focus not just on how disadvantaged students are prepared for college, but also on how colleges ought to be prepared to maintain high rigor and expectations for all students, so that higher education empowers everyone who undertakes it to think critically and creatively, use language ably, and reason about the world effectively.
by Kevin Carey / The Chronicle of Higher Education / 12 February 2012
In the last few months of 2010, rumors began circulating among higher-education policy geeks that the University of Chicago Press was about to publish a new book written by a pair of very smart sociologists who were trying to answer a question to which most people thought they already knew the answer: How much do students learn while they’re in college? Their findings, one heard, were … interesting.
The book, Academically Adrift, by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, fulfilled that promise—and then some. It was no surprise that The Chronicle gave prominent coverage to the conclusion that “American higher education is characterized by limited or no learning for a large proportion of students,” but few people anticipated that the book would become the rare piece of serious academic scholarship that jumps the fence and roams free into the larger culture.
Vanity Fair used space normally allotted to Kennedy hagiography to call it a “crushing exposé of the heretofore secret society known as ‘college.’” The gossip mavens at Gawker ran the book through their patented Internet cynicism machine and wrote that “To get a college degree, you must go into a soul-crushing amount of debt. And what do you get for all that money? Not learning.”
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Image Source: book cover / U Chicago Press