In Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, we highlight four core “important lessons” identified by our research:
While higher education is expected to accomplish many tasks, existing organizational cultures and practices too often do not prioritize undergraduate learning. Large numbers of college students report that: they spend a very limited amount of time studying; they enroll in courses that do not require either substantial reading or writing assignments; they interact with their professors outside of college classrooms rarely, if ever; and they define and understand their college experiences as focused more on social than on academic development. Faculty and administrators, working to meet multiple and at times competing demands, rarely focus on improving instruction and demonstrating gains in student learning.
On average, gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills (i.e., general collegiate skills) during the first two years of college are either exceedingly small or empirically non-existent for a large proportion of students. Forty-five percent of our students did not demonstrate any significant improvement in CLA performance during the first two years of college.
There are significant differences in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills across students from different family backgrounds and racial/ethnic groups. More importantly, students not only enter college unequal; but inequalities tend to persist, or in the case of African American students, increase during students’ enrollment in college.
While the average trends indicate that students are embedded in colleges where very limited academic demands are placed on them and limited learning occurs in general during the first two years of college, there is notable variation across students, and particularly across institutions. Students attending certain institutions have more beneficial college experiences (in terms of reading/writing requirements, meeting with faculty, time use, etc.) and demonstrate significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills over time. We focus in particular on examining unique college experiences and significantly more encouraging learning trajectories of students attending highly selective institutions.