The professors who found 45 percent of students show no significant improvement in learning during the first two years of college visited Central Michigan University Monday.
Co-authors and sociology professors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa wrote “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” when they realized a study on higher education was necessary.
Arum teaches at New York University and Roksa is from University of Virginia.
Arum said a large number of students are finding ways to get through school with little reading and writing asked of them.
“They figured out courses to take, faculty to take and programs to take,” he said.
About 530 CMU students and faculty attended two presentations by the authors. The first was focused on students and the second was about the bigger picture.
The authors stressed the importance of taking a reading and writing course each semester, however, according to Dearborn Heights junior and music major Sarah Haidar, that is not always possible.
“We’re kind of in our own little world with classes,” she said. “We have to take between 10 (and) 12 classes just for music a semester.”
The full-time college student in the 1920s to 1960s was spending 35 to 40 hours a week in academic time, Arum said. This breaks down to 15 hours in class and 25 hours studying.
Since then it has dropped in half, from 25 hours to 12 to 13 hours.
They said students studying minimal hours are still getting an average GPA of 3.2.
However, there are some students showing signs of improvement, depending on their teachers.
“One thing that matters is faculty expectations,” she said. “So when students told us that faculty had a high expectation…they showed substantially higher gains than students (whose professors) didn’t have high expectations.”
Haidar tested out of several reading and writing classes before college. She said she cannot take any extra because it gets costly and prolongs time until graduation.
Arum and Roksa used the college learning assessment in their research, which assesses critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing.
The study followed 2,341 students over two years from 2005 to 2007 in 24 diverse four-year colleges.
One part of the study asked students how many courses they took that included more than 20 pages of writing their fall semester of their freshman year — half of the students said “none.”
They then asked the students how many courses they took with more than 40 pages of reading per week — 32 percent said “none.”
Jason Bentley, director of First Year Experience, conducted a similar study last year focusing only on CMU, finding students performed well in the areas of social integration and overall satisfaction. CMU fell short in academic self-efficacy, academic integration, advanced academic behavior and self assessments of various skills, where it scored below a 5.5 on a seven-point scale.
Roksa said these findings were similar to those at other universities, since during the last few decades the emphasis has been on keeping students engaged socially.
Most of them have used their resources for non-academic investments such as building new dorms, new gyms, student centers and creating new meeting areas.
“The student today is a consumer and a client, and you make sure through client surveys that they’re happy with the products you’re providing,” he said.
An evening presentation discussed a broader range of topics that attracted a crowd of about 400 in Warriner Hall’s Plachta Auditorium.
There, administration’s role in academics was added to the mix.
Arum said the trustees and regents are most concerned with the financial bottom line, how much money has been raised, how much new faculty and research dollars have been brought in, the graduation rate and entering test scores of students.
“Notice that nowhere on that list is, how are students learning,” Arum said.
Freeland senior Whitley Collier received applause from the audience when she said she did not necessarily need to open a book for an unfortunately high amount of her undergraduate classes yet, still managed to achieved a 3.8 GPA.
“Listening to the presentation engendered an uneasy, yet familiar realization,” she said. “We all schedule our classes based on ratemyprofessor.com and have evaded the task of buying the assigned book for some classes. But now, unfortunately, we may be faced with the consequences of short-changing our academic careers.”