ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

Still Adrift

September 5, 2014 by Alex McHugh

In 2011, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa shook up the world of higher ed with the publication of their groundbreaking book Academically Adrift, which brought national attention to the lack of direction and standards at America’s colleges and universities. Now, they’ve released the second part of their study, which tracked close to 1,000 students for two years after graduation.

The results are equally worrying.

Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates paints a grim picture. Here are a few of the key findings the authors noted in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

In terms of economic outcomes, two years after graduation 23 percent of those in the labor market were either unemployed or underemployed (working fewer than 20 hours per week or in jobs where the majority of workers had not completed even a year of college), and less than half had full-time jobs that paid $30,000 or more per year.

Troubling indeed. Of course, it’s no great mystery why so many graduates are ending up this way. When they chose a university to attend, they had no information about learning outcomes. They were never required to take the foundational courses that would have given them the writing and critical thinking skills needed in the workplace. Many of their professors gave them straight A’s no matter what kind of work they turned in. And the ever-growing focus on the social aspects of campus life encouraged them to party like there would be no reckoning to come. Here’s Arum and Roksa again:

[T]he average full-time four-year college student in this country spends only about an hour per day studying alone and overall spends less time on academics than students attending college in Europe. Students in U.S. colleges rarely take courses that ask them to read more than 40 pages per week or write more than 20 pages per semester.

It’s easy to blame the students themselves, but—and the authors make careful note of this—in this case the failure is so widespread that schools and their leadership must share responsibility. People respond to the incentives they’re given, and college students are no different.    

This study ought to be a call to action. Sub-par and unserious education leads to poor results, and these new findings confirm beyond any doubt that things have got to change.

ACTA has long been calling for higher education leaders to take serious steps toward addressing these issues. After Academically Adrift was released, we worked with Richard Arum to bring its findings to the attention of 10,000 university trustees. Many were receptive to this call for a revival of rigorous academic standards and effective education. We hope these new findings will lead those still skeptical to recognize that—from the perspective of the students it purports to serve—higher education is indeed in crisis. The future of our nation and the quality of our lives will depend on effectively addressing that challenge.

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