Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Academically Adrift? More like, Liberal Arts Rule!

Arum and Roksa's book Academically Adrift:  Limited Learning on College Campuses is getting lots of press these days, and the links are flying fast and furious among my colleagues who work both in and out of college classrooms. 
Inside Higher Ed summarizes in bullet points:

  • 45 percent of students "did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning" during the first two years of college.
  • 36 percent of students "did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning" over four years of college.
  • Those students who do show improvements tend to show only modest improvements. Students improved on average only 0.18 standard deviations over the first two years of college and 0.47 over four years. What this means is that a student who entered college in the 50th percentile of students in his or her cohort would move up to the 68th percentile four years later -- but that's the 68th percentile of a new group of freshmen who haven't experienced any college learning."
And the Seattle Times makes the headline a lament:  "Study: Students slog through college, but don't gain much critical thinking." 

What I think I find most fascinating is the reporters' choice of what to focus on, i.e. that "large numbers [of students] didn't learn critical thinking," etc.  I think the real story is the efficacy of a liberal arts education in facilitating those ...very things. I think this could be used as an argument to strengthen the very things that are now being cut in budget times--the traditional liberal arts and sciences--and in fact to require a solid degree in those before moving on to a professional degree. Imagine: financiers with critical thinking skills!!