Four years ago Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa wrote a book called, Academically Adrift.
Colleges and universities, they explained, were not doing their job. They were not teaching anyone how to think. They were also, the book implied, devaluing hard work and promoting sloth. College was more about fun than learning.
Colleges are no longer in the education business. They are, Arum and Roksa claim, in the credentialing business.
But, what are these credentials worth if employers in the marketplace discover that having a degree from Brown makes you an undesirable employee.
Today’s students are not being taught the character skills required for success in the business world. They are taught to have a good time, to party hard, and to enjoy themselves. Too many of them are majoring in fun. They are not taught the virtue of showing up, of persevering in the face of difficult assignments, and in working hard to improve their skills.
Professors require very little of their students. The students do not need to do very much hard work. They rarely even attend lectures. No matter what they hand in, they tend to get good grades.
Unsurprisingly, Arum and Roksa discovered that students who did more work learned more.
And yet, regardless of how much or little they learn, college students always feel good about themselves.
They exit college with high self-esteem and a low skill set. Follow-up studies have shown that these same students have more difficulty succeeding in business.
If the business of education were really education, most colleges would go out of business.
Kevin Carey reported on the new study in The New York Times today:
Today, they [Arum and Roksa] released a follow-up study, tracking the same students for two years after graduation, into the workplace, adult relationships and civic life. The results suggest that recent college graduates who are struggling to start careers are being hamstrung by their lack of learning.
If you would like to measure how many minds self-esteemism has undone, these paragraphs are a good indication:
When asked during their senior year in 2009, three-quarters reported gaining high levels of critical thinking skills in college, despite strong C.L.A. evidence to the contrary. When asked again two years later, nearly half reported even higher levels of learning in college. This was true across the spectrum of students, including those who had struggled to find and keep good jobs.
Through diplomas, increasingly inflated grades and the drumbeat of college self-promotion, these students had been told they had received a great education. The fact that the typical student spent three times as much time socializing and recreating in college as studying and going to class didn’t change that belief. Nor did unsteady employment outcomes and, for the large majority of those surveyed, continued financial dependence on their parents.
Yet those same students continue to believe they got a great education, even after two years of struggle. This suggests a fundamental failure in the higher education market — while employers can tell the difference between those who learned in college and those who were left academically adrift, the students themselves cannot.