Thursday, January 20, 2011

Are your first two years of college worthless?

I received two posts on the same topic.  Here they are (with their scary conclusions)...


HEADLINE: First Two Years of College Show Small Gains (USA TODAY)

Yes, it is true.  The ugly reality is rearing its ugly head; college students are failing because faculty are failing.  This is the start of the article:

"Nearly half of the nation's undergraduates show almost no gains in learning in their first two years of college, in large part because colleges don't make academics a priority, a new report shows.  Instructors tend to be more focused on their own faculty research than teaching younger students, who in turn are more tuned in to their social lives, according to the report, based on a book titled Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. Findings are based on transcripts and surveys of more than 3,000 full-time traditional-age students on 29 campuses nationwide, along with their results on the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a standardized test that gauges students' critical thinking, analytic reasoning and writing skills.  After two years in college, 45% of students showed no significant gains in learning; after four years, 36% showed little change.  Students also spent 50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago, the research shows."
My rant: this give strong support that everyone is fucking up college!  Do I need to give more of an argument than stating the above?  Students, what is wrong with us????  Faculty, what is wrong with you?????

A new book lays failure to learn on College's doorstep!  This review was written by David Glenn and appears on the Chronicle of Higher Education web site. How many of your classes require writing or extensive reading of difficult material, especially in large lecture halls. What happened to the classic term paper? Learning is repetition. You become a good writer by writing but if students are not assigned writing in their classes, then their writing will not improve. Conversely, a good writer is also a good reader, so if they are not assigned substantive reading material, then nothing happens.

"This book makes a damning indictment of the American higher-education system: For many students, it says, four years of undergraduate classes make little difference in their ability to synthesize knowledge and put complex ideas on paper.
The stark message from the authors of Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (University of Chicago Press) is that more than a third of American college seniors are no better at crucial types of writing and reasoning tasks than they were in their first semester of college (see excerpt). The book is already drawing its share of critics, who say the analysis falls short in its assessments of certain teaching and learning methods.

"We didn't know what to expect when we began this study," said Richard Arum, a professor of sociology at New York University who is one of the book's two authors. "We didn't walk into this with any axes to grind. But now that we've seen the data, we're very concerned about American higher education and the extent to which undergraduate learning seems to have been neglected." In the new book, Mr. Arum and his co-author—Josipa Roksa, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia—report on a study that has tracked a nationally representative sample of more than 2,000 students who entered 24 four-year colleges in the fall of 2005. The scholars do not name those 24 institutions, but they say they are geographically and institutionally representative of the full range of American higher education. The sample includes large public flagship institutions, highly selective liberal-arts colleges, and historically black and Hispanic-serving colleges and universities. Three times in their college careers—in the fall of 2005, the spring of 2007, and the spring of 2009—the students were asked to take the Collegiate Learning Assessment, or CLA, a widely-used essay test that measures reasoning and writing skills. Thirty-six percent of the students saw no statistically significant gains in their CLA scores between their freshman and senior years. (The book itself covers the students only through their sophomore year. The full four-year data are described in a separate report released today by the Social Science Research Council.) And that is just the beginning of the book's bad news. The scholars also found that students devote only slightly more than 12 hours per week to studying, on average. That might be in part because their courses simply aren't that demanding: Most students take few courses that demand intensive writing (defined here as 20 or more pages across the semester) or intensive reading (40 or more pages per week). Mr. Arum and Ms. Roksa's finding was based on students' self-reports, but a new analysis of Texas syllabi by The Chronicle offers additional evidence of the same point: Business and education majors at public four-year colleges in Texas are typically required to take only a small number of writing-intensive courses. "What concerns us is not just the levels of student performance," Mr. Arum said, "but that students are reporting that they make such meager investments in studying, and that they have such meager demands placed on them in their courses in terms of reading and writing." Another finding of the book is that racial and ethnic gaps in CLA scores persist—and even widen, in the case of African-American students—over the course of four years of college. That appears to be partly because African-American students are more likely to attend less-selective colleges with less-intense academic environments, the authors write."

This is a wide spread problem across all colleges, from the selective to the less selective. According to the authors. students are simply not learning much, that is if you accept the author's conclusions. The majority of classes taught in colleges today are by lowly paid adjuncts or part time teachers, and it is in their interest to do less, not more. Are the authors right?  Check out your own classes. How many of them require at least 20 pages of writing or a substantial amount of reading?


  1. This is nothing new! College has always been about jobs jobs jobs. This is the reason the majority of students are majoring in business. Faculty members at all levels from the very select colleges to the wannabee colleges must do research, however, weak to survive and keep their jobs. No one get tenured for being a great teacher period. Its called publish or perish, not teach or perish. So asking faculty members to focus more on teaching given the current reward system is like saying good morning in a cemetery and expecting a response. You want faculty members to spend more time on teaching, then change the system and scale back on using so many part timers. Until then, publish or perish!

  2. I teach in the College of Letters & Sciences. The general minimum research requirement is to publish two peer-reviewed articles. And by "peer-reviewed," that means that it has to be accepted at least by an editor (you don't even have to have two or more referees). Of course, having more than two would put one beyond question, but one must have two published articles. Oh, I forgot to tell you what time span one must publish those two articles. SIX years! I'm not stuttering. I'm not smoking anything. Six years. And for those slow on the uptake, that means that one has to publish one article every three years, in almost any journal (except for vanity journals)!!

    So, my god, using the "publish or perish" mantra just won't cut it. It is such an easy requirement that it should never be used to justify why one neglects to make his or her teaching the best that it can be. That mantra would be more appropriate to say at a place like UW-Madison. But at UW-Whitewater, we faculty have the luxury to excel at our teaching.

    Unfortunately, this still means that we need an explanation for this new study that came out.

  3. I just don't get it... aren't professors passionate about what they teach? Aren't they excited to get students excited about what gets them excited? Did they used to be, and now it has just died off because too many restrictions have been placed on what they can teach, their field of study isn't popular among students, their office is too crummy, or they thought they'd be making big bucks and they're not? What is it??!?!?!?! If I loved history so much that I wanted to teach history, and I went through all the schooling I needed to be a college professor, I'd like to believe I'd be passionate and HAPPY to help and motivate students to learn about history!
    I've noticed however, seeing the way some professors work their classes, that some seem to care more about what their students look like on paper than the actual student or they seem more focused on themselves and how much work they have to do for themselves that they forget about the work they are doing for the students. I had one professor who was so busy all the time she really seemed to get annoyed any time I stepped foot in her office, she made me so uncomfortable I was actually intimidated and afraid to take more of her time by asking questions, so I ended up not going to her office ever again. And I wasn't the only student who felt that way. (Not to mention this professor also made dozens of unfulfilled promises throughout the semester, due to other priorities).
    My point is that some professors may not be totally focused on what's important when it comes to teaching and connecting with students.
    And one last point - I don't know about other colleges, but this one in particular I've noticed a lot of people don't take too seriously... particularly the business/communication majors, whose goal after college is simply to "get a job". In addition, a lot of college students think they're still in high school, and still have the mentality that school isn't "cool", and there's nothing to be excited about. What's up with that? Some people I think just aren't made for school, because they'll never lose that mentality. Unfortunately, college is just "the way" everyone seems to think they should go if they want a job that pays above 20 or 30k. Or maybe since this is such a party school, it's hard for students think about schoolwork when it's basically a custom here to party and go to the bars 4 nights a week. I mean, let's face it, a lot of students in UWW like to drink, party, socialize, slack off, and be "cool", living the college life, more than they like to attend and engage in class. Not to mention so many students go to college and do whatever it is they can that will be easy, get them out quickly, and get them a job. There's not much more thought that goes into it than that. Hear that? sounds like "baa-aa-aa".
    So what do we do?

  4. Just focus on yourself! Find a mentor and hang out with people moving in the same direction. Later for all of the rest of the mess. People walk different paths in life. The student who parties all the time may turn out to be the next Richard Feynman, who had a notorious reputation, or Einstein who cut most of his math classes. Just do your own thing!

  5. I know. What do we do? I can be more serious myself but I already take my stuff seriously enough. What's up with faculty? Not all my professors are blowing off their teaching. Some put quite a bit of care into their work. But some. eh. So what do we do? I just don't get why some of the professors here don't care. Or maybe I should say I don't get why some professors here are only doing a half-assed teaching job. A previous comment makes it seem that it isn't the publishing requirement. So what is it? Do we smell?

  6. Well Anon 3:56, I agree that people all walk different paths, and it seems to be more important to just "do your own thing" and not worry so much about what everyone else is doing. However, is that really the best way of looking at it? Perhaps there is a chance that the student who slacks off a bunch due to an acquired drinking/partying habit is still really a genius, but that proves nothing. I think it's important that the people who just do their "own thing" recognize that what they're doing regardless may be contributing to or affecting other people's "own thing". See what I'm saying?? While it's true that everyone needs to find their True individual path in life, those who have not discovered their True path are taking the paths of others, who may or may not have found it for themselves. In other words, many of us are just sheep following the herd of other sheep, caught in a cycle of being around other people who don't know what they're doing either. Those who have opted not to follow the herd, need to stand up and be an influence to those who are still part of the herd.

  7. I think it's shallow to make the benchmarks of a good class 20 pgs of writing and/or 40 pgs of reading per week.

  8. 12:42 - read it again. All they are saying is that the classes in general are not demanding, no writing and substantive reading. Most students, even very good students at all colleges and universities, have not read many of the classic books in the western canon. In Ancient Greece you were not considered civilized unless you had read Homer! How in the fuck does any student graduate without at least reading ONE of Shakespeare's plays, or Dante's Divine Comedy? I could go on and on but you get the point.

  9. 1:57 - I was responding to the remarks at the end of the post. You may need to read those again.

    And life's not all about old dead white guy lit. The world's changing and so should our reading lists. But you will just say that if you went on, you would have said something like that. I'm just saying.

  10. 7:01, No, I would not have said that! So have you read Homer, or one of Shakespeare's plays, or the Divine Comedy? You should and then you will not be so quick to dismiss them as dead white guy lit, but I suspect you have not read dead minority writers either.

    So instead of criticizing expand your own reading list. I stand by my earlier post, reading Homer, Aristotle, Plato, Dante, Milton, and the barb, Shakespeare are essential to being considered an educated person, but you do not have to agree, and by all means, develop your own reading list. No one is stopping you!

    By the way, most of the great philosophers and scientists since Socrates are, to use your silly words, DEAD WHITE GUYS! But you do not have to read them and can establish your own reading list.

  11. This is a silly statement!

    "I think it's shallow to make the benchmarks of a good class 20 pgs of writing and/or 40 pgs of reading per week."

    So what would be your recommendation? No writing or reading at all! The study said that students in general are not being assigned enough writing and substantive reading, so regardless of the page lengths or books, more needs to be done. That is the point PERIOD.

  12. I don't get your confusion 4:28. Having a class with 15 pgs of writing that really makes me form an opinion on a matter and argue for it seems to be a lot better than 20 pgs of writing a narrative about my life. It's about content, not quantity. That is why statement is not silly.

  13. Let me repeat one more time. The issue is writing more and reading more in class PERIOD regardless of the length of the papers. Do you get it now?