Why colleges are responsible for students' lack of learning

In today's Midmorning program, "Is higher education losing its meaning?" host Kerri Miller talks about a new book -- Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses -- that says college students aren't learning much in their years on campus.

[audio href="http://minnesota.publicradio.org/www_publicradio/tools/media_player/popup.php?name=minnesota/news/programs/2011/01/24/midmorning/midmorning_hour_1_20110124_64" title="Midmorning: Is higher education losing its meaning?"]With Richard Arum and Mark Taylor[/audio]

The research in the book indicates that more than a third of college students showed no significant improvements in learning over four years of schooling, while 45 percent showed little statistical improvement in performance by their sophomore year.

She talks with the co-author of the book, Richard Arum, as well as Mark Taylor, chair of the department of religion at Columbia University.

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Arum mentions past research showing a 50 percent decline in the amount of time students spend studying and preparing for class in recent decades -- but adds his own disturbing findings:

In our research, we found that 35 percent of the kids report studying alone five or fewer hours per week. If you’re putting in less than five ours per week studying, you would not expect large improvements.

Taylor lays much of the blame at the foot of colleges (emphasis mine):

The value of teaching is not high enough in my judgment in many institutions. For a variety of reasons in the past three or four decades, there has been a tilting of the balance between research and teaching, and there is simply at many institutions – not at all, but at many institutions, especially some of your top-tier institutions – there is just virtually no motivation for faculty members to take teaching seriously and spend lots of time with their students.

A second and related issue is the increasing financial burden that many institutions are facing. The kind of teaching that we need to do to deliver the kinds of skills that Richard (Arum) and his colleagues are talking about, that is writing and analytic thinking, are labor-intensive. And as we know from the papers every day, states as well as private institutions are cutting back on … the numbers of faculty members. They’re cutting back on graduate students at the same time they’re increasing the number of students – all to meet financial crises. So it simply becomes more and more difficult to deliver the kind of education that students need and deserve and that we as a country need and deserve.

MPR's Bob Collins offers some readers' comments -- including a few by Minnesota faculty -- in his NewsCut blog.