18 January 2011

How much do students learn in college?

Excerpts from an AP article in today's StarTribune:
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...

The book is based on information from 24 schools, meant to be a representative sample, that provided Collegiate Learning Assessment data on students who took the standardized test in their first semester in fall 2005 and at the end of their sophomore years in spring 2007. The schools took part on the condition that their institutions not be identified.
More at the link, and elsewhere on the web (this is being discussed in a variety of forums and news outlets this week).


  1. I would just like to say that though these statistics may be correct, their measurements of the degree of challenge in college is skewed. Yes, most courses measure difficulty in reading and writing, but by nature certain fields do not require these things as much. I am in apparel design, and to students in other fields, it looks easier. Few papers, little reading, and not many written exams. Instead, I am asked to actually physically apply the skills I learn (drawing, software, patternmaking, sewing, and others) into enormous projects. If you measured my college learning experience by reading and writing, I'd look dumb.
    But I dare that researcher to wear my shoes for a semester and tell me its "not challenging."

  2. Your point is well taken, Lucie. I don't think anyone would argue with you on that.

  3. As a college student this is not surprising at all. I was more challenged at my community college than I am at university. I think when the class sizes increase the teachers care less about students and more about getting their work finished.

  4. I've seen a couple articles on this, and they all seem to have faulty reasoning. The metric you bolded is particularly misleading. UW-Madison has rather large science and engineering programs. I did have some courses that required 40+ pages of reading/week, but the statistic related to the prior semester. So most semesters I would have responded negatively to that question. However, most semesters I also had classes requiring projects with 50-100 hours of lab work.

  5. I agree with Ross and Lucie...my ongoing (graduate, not undergrad) master's program in statistics requires almost no reading and writing.


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