An interesting book was released last Tuesday, January 18 entitled “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses”. New York University sociologist Richard Arum and University of Virginia sociologist Josipa Roksa, collaborated on the effort by following 2322 young college students during the fall 2005 through the spring of 2009. During the course of their investigation, the authors visited 24 college campuses and universities that included very elite institutions as well as more affordable alternatives. This was the first time a study of this type had been attempted and here is what they found:
- 45% of students made no significant improvements in their critical thinking, complex reasoning or written communication skills during the first two years of college.
- A full 36% also showed no significant gains after four years of college.
- Students spent less than 20% of their time each week related to academic activity.
- More than 50% of their time was spent socializing and pursuing extracurricular activities.
- Students majoring in business, education, social work and communications showed the least learning improvement.
- Students avoided courses that required more than 40 pages of reading per week.
- They were easily swayed by emotional arguments and political spin.
- Educators placed more emphasis on faculty research at the expense of teaching.
- Despite the stagnation of critical thinking skills, the students earned an average grade point of 3.2 with very little effort.
The study concluded that many of the students graduated, to use one reporter’s words: “without knowing how to sift fact from opinion, make a clear written argument or objectively review conflicting reports of the situation or event”. Predictably, some educators interviewed tried to shift the blame on to the economy and American culture. Many students also defended the disproportional time spent on social activities by disparaging content learning, aka study time, as meaningless memorization of facts. I will spare you some of their quotes, however, you may be interested in the comments of Larry Moran, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Toronto:
“None of this is news to my colleagues and me. Problem is, there’s not much we can do about it. If we increase the rigor of our biochemistry courses and start demanding more of our students, then the result won’t be increased learning. It will simply mean that undergraduates will avoid biochemistry courses. In fact, that’s already happening since the University of Toronto has developed dozens of new programs that will award degrees in the biological sciences without ever forcing students to take a rigorous course.”
I share Professor Moran’s reaction as well as his assessment. None of this took me by surprise as I poured over 15 blogs reporting this story this morning. It’s clear that the rigors and standards of higher education have been lowered over the years under the erroneous assumption that perhaps everyone deserves to have a college diploma, regardless of their academic ability. In the process, many argue that a bachelors of science or bachelors of arts degree is now the functional equivalent of the high school diploma issued 40 years ago. That may or may not be accurate. But there’s one fact is indisputable. The decline in critical thinking skills among college students has occurred under the stewardship of liberalism, which has run amok for the last 30 years on college campuses across America. That’s not opinion, that’s fact.
Documentary filmmaker and software engineer Evan Maloney released the film in 2008 entitled “Indoctrinate U”. Much like the Arum/Roska study, Evan spent over two years visiting and interviewing students and faculty at 24 universities. The focus of the film, however, was not to measure improvement in critical thinking or written communication skills. Instead, he investigated the extreme politically correct climate on college campuses today that censor conservative thought. The intolerance of some faculty is frightening as they use the concept of “speech codes” to control student dialogue and suppress opposing political viewpoints. Scores of examples are included in the film, so I won’t list them here. Instead, I suggest that you watch the film for yourself. It’s an eye-opener. You can view the trailer for Indoctrinate U here:
This film may also explain why the progressive left in this country spend so much time and energy trying to sway the college voter. Because at the end of the day, so-called modern liberalism is really what others have described as velvet glove totalitarianism. Progressives understand that it’s hard to enforce totalitarianism on an enlightened citizenry capable of “sifting fact from opinion”. An informed citizenry that “reads more that 40 pages of week” and is not “easily swayed by emotional arguments and political spin”.
Let me close by offering this video created by Walid Shoebat, a former PLO terrorist who is now an outspoken critic of the radical Muslim agenda. The clip gives a glimpse of the political awareness of UCLA students. The editor may have been biased in selecting only students who seem to be clueless, but the fact that so many undergraduates could not answer a simple question regarding Middle East politics is still troubling.
Comment from my friend Phil:
The video on today’s post was depressing… for this, I’m shelling out 20+ thou a year?! The most interesting aspect about it was the on-camera talent, Mark Schiff. Mark was a very good stand up comic who was on the radio show several times over the years. He, Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Reiser and Larry Miller were all buddies, and used to call themselves “The Funniest Men in America Club,” and every year on New Year’s Day they’d meet for breakfast at some joint under the Brooklyn Bridge. Schiff is the guy who told the story about meeting an agent in Hollywood that Seinfeld set him up with, and a few minutes into the meeting, the guy tells Mark, “I can’t help you.” When Mark asked why, the agent pointed around the room and said, “Look at all these pictures in here, hanging on my walls (a bunch of show biz clients). You don’t look like any of these people…” Schiff’s a really good guy. It’s nice to see that he’s also sensible.