Trustees | General Education

How Good Are American Colleges?

NEW YORK TIMES   |  May 21, 2011 by Letter to the Editor: Michael Poliakoff

“Your So-Called Education” (Op-Ed, May 15) is a timely warning. Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, the distinguished authors of “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” did not offer soothing pieties about American higher education as the envy of the world and the sound investment for future success.

We learn instead that 36 percent of the graduates–many with quite good grades–showed no significant gains in complex reasoning or writing abilities.

It is easy to connect the dots between a vacuous college curriculum and the rising number of students who graduate with huge debt and no job prospects. Mr. Arum and Ms. Roksa call on trustees to hold administrators accountable for student learning. Trustees need to be fiduciaries of academic quality more than they need to be fund-raisers and cheerleaders. They need to demand genuine core requirements that ensure intellectual growth.

And shame on the college accrediting agencies that have allowed colleges to give students a diet of gut courses and to substitute opaque ad hoc assessment systems in place of the clear metrics that informed “Academically Adrift.”

Honest diagnosis is the beginning of higher education’s improvement. The remedy for the academically adrift is not more money; it is academic integrity and leadership.


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