A study of more than 2,300 undergraduates found 45 percent of students show no significant improvement in the key measures of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing by the end of their sophomore years.
Not much is asked of students, either. Half did not take a single course requiring 20 pages of writing during their prior semester, and one-third did not take a single course requiring even 40 pages of reading per week.
The findings are in a new book, "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses," by sociologists Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia. An accompanying report argues against federal mandates holding schools accountable, a prospect long feared in American higher education.
"The great thing — if you can call it that — is that it's going to spark a dialogue and focus on the actual learning issue," said David Paris, president of the New Leadership Alliance for Student Learning and Accountability, which is pressing the cause in higher education. "What kind of intellectual growth are we seeing in college?"
The study, an unusually large-scale effort to track student learning over time, comes as the federal government, reformers and others argue that the U.S. must produce more college graduates to remain competitive globally. But if students aren't learning much, that calls into question whether boosting graduation rates will provide that edge.
[An aside: a young man sharing a meal with us tonight said his first class today in a new course surprised him. The instructor actually talked to them, taught them, rather than reading from PowerPoint slides for the whole class period. Technology has taken a lot of the guesswork out of teaching a college class...and a lot of the human value.]