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Are college students learning... anything?
A new study finds that nearly half of students learn little in their first two years in college — suggesting that it's one of America's worst investments
The 3000 students who participated in the study spent 75 percent of their days at college socializing and sleeping and only 16 percent studying or attending class.
The 3000 students who participated in the study spent 75 percent of their days at college socializing and sleeping and only 16 percent studying or attending class.
Corbis
I

n a bombshell finding that's unnerving the staffs of America's universities, a new study concludes that 45 percent of college students made "no significant gains in learning" in their first two years on campus. While professors have become more focused on their research than teaching, students have become increasingly fixated on their social lives. In fact, the report (based on the book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses) reveals that students are spending 50 percent less time studying than their 1970s and 1980s counterparts. How can colleges justify rising tuition costs?

Why is anyone surprised? This is "depressing," but hardly "shocking," says Matt Kiebus in Death + Taxes. Anyone who has spent time on a college campus in recent years knows that many young people "aren't learning anything more than how to tap a keg and master the midday nap." The "most hilarious and sadly accurate" finding was that the 3,000 students surveyed spent 75 percent of their time socializing and sleeping, and just 16 percent of it studying or attending class.
"Kids ain't learning much knowledge in college"

Perhaps the study was too narrowly defined: It all depends on how you define "learning," say the editors of The Economist. The co-authors of the study, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, measured it by looking at performance on the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a test that gauges critical thinking and analytic reasoning — but "this may not be what students go to college to learn." And if such skills were the primary "value" of college — versus knowledge of a particular field of knowledge — "why wouldn't firms just ask to see these test scores" when hiring new employees?
"The value of college"

College is valuable, just not valuable enough: Look, there's still value in getting a college education, says Anne D. Neal in The Washington Post. But it's undeniable that many students "learn and do little," because their schools "expect little of them." So we need to stop acting like the goal of our education system is simply cranking out more graduates. Our goal should be graduating students "who have a rich and rigorous education that prepares them to think critically."
"'Academically Adrift,' indeed"

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