Academically Adrift by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa

It is no surprise to people who know me but I am a big believer in higher education, though I am not shy about its faults. I agree that higher education costs are soaring. I agree that many universities are focusing too much on admissions and retention instead of academics. However, I do not agree with the methodology and conclusions found in this book.

Admittedly there will never be an undisputed measurement of learning. The College Learning Assessment, which was used for this study, has its loyal supporters and regular detractors. To blanket all higher education in America as weak and ineffective because students do not write enough or read enough according to some randomly determined standard seems a bit thoughtless. How many hours reading and writing does it take to learn? Where’s this magical number? 

Additionally, we cannot hold students to the same standard we did years ago. Things have changed dramatically since. The rise of computers, smart libraries, the internet, smartphones, and connected classrooms has transformed learning. Some of these are for the best and some technologies are for the worse, but things are different nonetheless. Students no longer have to go to the library, research acceptable resources, and then scour the building to find a book. That book can literally come to them. That may not be the best example, but a noticeable transformation in academics.

A college education is only as valuable as the amount of energy that was put into it. A degree does not communicate what a potential candidate knows but what their capacity is and how to use it. It is a launching off point. I'm not sure if blanket reform is what higher education needs. Each institution needs to focus on what is important to them and stick to that mission.