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Academically Adrift. Limited Learning on College Campuses

Arum, R. & Roksa J. Academically Adrift. Limited Learning on College Campuses. University of Chicago Press, 2011. ISBN: 978-02-260-2855-2. Pages: 259

American sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa raise an uncomfortable question in their new book, Academically Adrift. Specifically, “… what if increased educational attainment is not equivalent to enhanced individual capacity for critical thinking and complex reasoning?” The concern is one with profound implications, considering that critical skills and complex reasoning are among the most fundamental competencies that American higher education institutions declare they will produce in their graduates today; they also top the short list of skills that economists and others have deemed are vitally important for national competitiveness. The US has enjoyed for many year a privileged place as a ‘gold standard’ for higher education around the world. Is there reason to worry that the system is not yielding what it should? Arum and Roksa say yes, there is reason to worry. Citing “emerging empirical evidence that suggests that college students’ academic effort has dramatically declined in recent decades”, the authors suggest that students are “managing” college in ways that minimise the need for serious effort. This is made possible by a professoriate that is both complicit and undermined by increasingly challenging employment circumstances. Furthermore, their analysis of various survey data lead them to conclude that “a significant proportion of students demonstrate no significant improvement in a range of skills”, including those noted above, as well as writing. Not surprisingly, this provocative book has generated a great deal of debate in US higher education circles since its release in January 2011.

University of Chicago Press