Academically adrift

A University of Colorado at Boulder student wanted to make a point, so he paid his college tuition in cash — more than $14,000 in one-dollar bills:

Nic Ramos might be onto something, showing kids what the parents (much of the time) have to pony up for a semester at college.

“The sacrifices that my family is willing to make for me to go to school and be happy,” said in the video. “I know that I always appreciated it and all those things but this just put it into a whole new perspective when i could physically see that sacrifice.”

So what does that money — or more accurately, twice that amount — buy? For many students: Nothing, a new study says.

In a book released this week (Academically Adrift) sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, found that in a study of 2,000 students’ performances standardized test three times during their college careers, almost half showed no gains after two years and only a little over a third showed nothing gained after four years.

Update 2:54 p.m. – MPR’s Midmorning will discuss the issue with the book’s authors next Monday morning.

  • JackU

    I’d love to know what the standardized test measures and how they administer it. When I was in college I took total of 3 courses that would be called Literature courses (I was a Chemistry major at a liberal arts college.) Two were taught by the English department and the other by the Modern Languages department. The two English courses were taken in my sophomore year the other my senior year. I don’t know that I would have done better on a standardized test on literature administered during my college career. I also would expect that my friends who were English, Economics and Political Science majors would not have shown much of an improvement in a standardized test on science and math.

    Standardized testing as a measure of what’s learned is a mediocre idea in secondary education and probably descends to the level of a bad idea at the College and University level. Unless the tests were targeted to the area of study (which would be difficult for incoming freshmen) then the results create smoke where there is no fire.

  • Jon

    Nothing new for those who’ve had to work with college grads that no next to nothing about the field they are in.

    Network engineers that don’t know basic concepts for networks. MBA’s that couldn’t manage their way out of a paper bag…

    now show me the study that says people who get degree’s in fields where people say “What are you going to do with a degree in that?” (i.e. philosophy, or history) score higher on those tests.

  • Bismuth

    Are the sort of things you learn at college likely to show up on a standardized test? Of course not. College is anything but standardized. Are we going to test Spanish majors on civil engineering problems? It’s possible they may not have had a single course in common in the duration of their studies. The standardized test for admission to graduate school (the GRE) is basically the same as that for admission to undergraduate study (the SAT), and the reason is that college is a time for specialized learning based on a student’s own interests. College students are expected to already have a basic competency for learning in general, which is all that can really be measured on a standardized exam.

  • Jon


    Wouldn’t you expect to see and over all increase across all college students though? if you increased in math and science, and not reading, wouldn’t the English majors increase in reading, and not math and science?

    unless you were getting worse at reading, while improving on math and science the net effect would be a general trend upwards across all students?

  • Kassie

    We couldn’t even test people in their majors. I was a History major but know nothing of WWII (aside from the basics) since I never took a WWII class. I also know nothing of Asian or African history or history post 1940 or so. I do know a ton about Minnesota History and American History from civil war until 1930.

    But I did learn to think critically, write, quickly process a ton of information, and speak in front of people. Things I use every day at work.