The subtitle of Academically Adrift is “Limited Learning on College Campuses.” The book is a sustained argument that, on balance, a surprisingly small amount of learning actually occurs in college for many people that attend. I agree wholeheartedly. The academic chapters of Thriving at College are my humble attempt to help students escape this sad trend – to actually learn a lot at college. Yet here’s the problem that Arum and Roksa articulate so well: Many in college are happy with the way it is – they think limited learning is just fine, since social and relational goals are being accomplished. So is limited learning in college a “crisis”? No, argue Arum and Roksa, because the system works:
“Students…seek to enjoy the benefits of a full collegiate experience that is focused as much on social life as on academic pursuits, while earning high marks in their courses with relatively little investment of effort. Professors are eager to find time to concentrate on their scholarship and professional interests. Administrators have been asked to focus largely on external institutional rankings and the financial bottom line. Government funding agencies are primarily interested in the development of new scientific knowledge. In short, the system works.”
I think social/relational development are important (I devote three chapters to them), but they don’t displace the role of intellectual development, which is not only just as important, it should happen in a unique way during the college years. There are many other legitimate post-high school experiences that can facilitate significant social/relational development. College uniquely shapes the mind, the intellect. In Thriving at College, I argue that students should not seek to “earn high marks in their courses with relatively little investment of effort.” Instead, they should aim to learn as much as possible, and let their grade be the byproduct of their learning. Here’s a quote:
“You are in college to learn how to think so that you can, for the rest of your life, increasingly love God with a well-trained mind, a mind that can analytically break down an argument, discover logical fallacies, communicate effectively, and be able to manipulate numbers and spreadsheets (all remarkably practical skills)…….
So remember that a lot of what you’re picking up in class is going to enable you to think and live well. Solving physics problems will help you spot weaknesses in your company’s sales plan. A history class is not about memorizing a bunch of useless dates, places, and events; it’s an opportunity to understand how the past shapes the present, to become conversant on political issues in our day so as to better understand the changing world we live in, to differentiate between historical facts and the opinions of commentators, and to articulate your own perspectives in a clear, coherent manner.”