Study: Colleges are Failing Many Students

October 19th, 2011
in econ_news

college-grads1 Econintersect:  The headline doesn’t mean that students are flunking.  Quite the opposite, colleges are flunking.  According to a study led by New York University professor Richard Arum, America’s colleges and universities are failing to produce reasonable education results for many graduates.  Arum’s book, "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses" (University of Chicago Press), which will be released this month, gives all the study details.

Follow up:

An article last January (2011) by Sara Rimer in The Hechinger Report has the following graphic which describes how college students spend their time, using the data from the Arum study.


The study followed 2,322 traditional age college students through four years of college 2005-2009.

Some summary results:

  • 45% of students made no significant improvement in their critical thinking, reasoning or writing skills during the first two years of college;
  • 36% still had made no progress after four years;
  • 16% of college time was spent on academic matters;
  • 15 hours a week was spent in class;
  • 12 hours a week was spent studying;
  • 86 hours a week was spent in socializing and recreation; and
  • Less than six hours (on average) was spent sleeping.

From McClatchy:

Howard Gardner, a professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education known for his theory of multiple intelligences, said the study underscores the need for higher education to push students harder.

"No one concerned with education can be pleased with the findings of this study," Gardner said. "I think that higher education in general is not demanding enough of students — academics are simply of less importance than they were a generation ago."

As discouraging as these results are, there are still students who are performing well.  From The Hechinger Report:

Arum concluded that while students at highly selective schools made more gains than those at less selective schools, there are even greater disparities within institutions.

“In all these 24 colleges and universities, you have pockets of kids that are working hard and learning at very high rates,” Arum said.  “There is this variation across colleges, but even greater variation within colleges in how much kids are applying themselves and learning.”

Econintersect has a cynical observation about this.  According to the New York Times, the average college debt for 2009 graduates was $24,000.  If we assign that debt to the time spent in three activities, attending class, studying and socializing/recreating/other, $5,730 is the debt for the first two (the education activities) and $18,270 is vacation debt.

Sources:  McClatchy, The Hechinger Report and The New York Times

Hat tip to Naked Capitalism.

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1 comment

  1. Derryl Hermanutz Email says :

    , $5,730 is the debt for the first two (the education activities) and $18,270 is vacation debt.

    Great insight! I would call this observation "realistic" rather than "cynical".

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