Keep students from being ‘adrift’

By Brianna Wellen

Commencement is quickly sneaking up, and as I prepare to walk across that stage and enter the real world, I can’t help but reflect on what I’ve actually learned in college. Many of the things that first come to mind are not from my classroom lessons but the experience of living on my own for the first time, getting a taste of the professional world and meeting a new and diverse group of people. While all of this is extremely valuable, was it worth the $80,000 or more I spent on college tuition? “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” a book released last year by the University of Chicago Press, suggests that it isn’t.

The book’s authors, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, gave the Collegiate Learning Assessment to a group of 2,300 students enrolled at a range of four-year colleges and universities at various points in their educational career. The results were disconcerting. During the first two years of college, 45 percent of students scored in the “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” range, while 36 percent had the same result after four years of college. The test focused on gains in critical thinking and analytical reasoning, which while not in the same category as the real-world skills needed for some careers, are still important goals in higher education.

The blame for these results falls on the shoulders of not only the teachers and senior officials in charge of administering an education, but also the students themselves. From an educator’s point of view, it’s important to adjust teaching methods to fit the mindset of students today and more regularly test that the information and skills being relayed in class are being retained by the students. As a student myself, I can attest to the poor job we sometimes do. Too often students search for the easiest class to add to their schedule instead of searching for a challenge that will push them and improve their learning skills.

Better placement strategies and a more carefully monitored registration process would help students who are just looking to slack off. Teachers need to adjust their methods to push students as well and reach them in ways outside of lectures and textbooks. On both sides, being more actively involved in the learning and teaching process will hopefully help critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills improve over students’ college educations.