Richard Arum


On his (and Josipa Roksa's) book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses

Cover Interview of February 22, 2011

In a nutshell

This book is based on the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA)—a project in which my coauthor Josipa Roksa and I followed several thousand students across 24 diverse U.S. four-year colleges and universities to investigate how much they improved on a state-of-the-art measure of critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication.

When comparing the test scores taken after students had invested years of college studying to those taken at the time when they started college, we found that large numbers of students did not improve.

Surveying these same students on their college experiences revealed that they were in classes that placed few demands on them in terms of reading and writing requirements.  The students also reported spending relatively few hours studying, and that they were often studying with their friends.

While we only measured the students’ general skills as opposed to subject-specific skills, we are skeptical that the results would be much different if another type of test was given—many of the students we followed did not appear particularly academically engaged with their coursework.

These students were largely academically adrift at these institutions, hence the title of the book.

We attribute this limited learning to the institutional cultures in the schools.  Contemporary colleges accomplish many things, but our results suggest that administrators, faculty, and the undergraduate students themselves focus too little attention on learning.