Are Undergraduates Actually Learning Anything?

Are Undergraduates Actually Learning Anything? Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses By Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa

The Chronicle carries an extract from what sounds like an extremely interesting new book. The paper reports that, drawing on survey responses, transcript data, and results from the Collegiate Learning Assessment (a standardized test taken by students in their first semester and at the end of their second year), the authors concluded that a significant percentage of undergraduates were failing to develop the expected skills and knowledge.

While higher education is expected to accomplish many tasks—and contemporary colleges and universities have indeed contributed to society in ways as diverse as producing pharmaceutical patents as well as prime-time athletic games—existing organizational cultures and practices too often do not put a high priority on undergraduate learning. Faculty and administrators, working to meet multiple and at times competing demands, too rarely focus on either improving instruction or demonstrating gains in student learning.

More troubling still, the limited learning we have observed in terms of the absence of growth in CLA performance is largely consistent with the accounts of many students, who report that they spend increasing numbers of hours on nonacademic activities, including working, rather than on studying. They enroll in courses that do not require substantial reading or writing assignments; they interact with their professors outside of classrooms rarely, if ever; and they define and understand their college experiences as being focused more on social than on academic development.

Might be sensationalist and playing to the tabloid view of university education but, on the face of it, sounds like a serious and interesting study.