Gail Collins, NY Times columnist, discusses the already widely discussed book: Academically Adrift (repeatedly referring to one of the authors as Arun, rather than Arum; a mistake I suspect will be fairly quickly changed once a copy editor gets a chance to review her work), and concludes, along with the authors that part of the problem lies with the students and their parents. The authors also lay a lot of the blame on college professors and Universities in general.
However, my take on it is different from that. I would lay most of the blame on a shift in values in the United States. Collins bemoans the fact that students who studied less in college were more likely to be living with their parents two years after graduation, concluding that parents need to ride herd over Jane or Johnny and make sure they are studying; as if helicopter parents do not already carry around a large enough burden of guilt over the fortunes of their children.
Sure, we all need to be more vigilant and concerned with rigor and the integrity of education; but such a project is not easy when the primary higher-education outcome emphasized by books like Academically Adrift and the National and State Complete College Acts, is; that college is about preparing students for jobs. If that is the case, then we should simply turn high school graduates over to corporations and allow them to work several years as an intern, studying the whys, whats and wherefores of how to be a dutiful, ambitious, thoughtful ambassador of the company. Surely that would be more efficient and we could simply drop the term education from our lexicon (the original meaning of which has already been dropped) and call what we are looking for by its real name: training.
When a society normatively sets the goal of higher education as that of training a workforce, should it come as any surprise when parents, students, college administrators and faculty, begin to just phone it in rather than to take the transformation of young minds seriously? In fact, there is no transformation of minds required if all you are doing is preparing graduates for gainful employment. You do not need to see the world in sophisticated ways, if the size of your paycheck is your only focus. In fact, it would not be in the best interest of corporations to hire college graduates who think critically or with great moral and philosophical depth, because then it would be harder to “train” them to be what John Ralston Saul calls: modern-day courtesans (those who attend the court of a monarch – with the modern monarch being “the workplace”).
Parents, students and those who work in higher education are not the only victims of a cultural values shift that has seen us go from believing in education as a way to lead what Socrates called an examined life, to one of believing in education as a way to become one more supplicant in the (job) market place; add journalists and authors of books critical of higher education to the growing list of victims.
I know the book “Academically Adrift” looks at whether students are studying enough and thinking differently after two or four years, but when most of the young people are holding down part or even full-time jobs to get through college, what else would you expect other than fewer hours studying and no measurable gain in critical-thinking skills? State-by-state, legislators have essentially said we are no longer willing to raise enough revenue to afford sufficient budgets for higher education, so the burden of payment has shifted to families and to individual students. If you are saddled with enormous debt after getting a college degree, you will be much less likely to ever need to be able to think about life critically or in much depth, since you will be spending most of your life struggling to maintain income sufficient to pay back your loans and to merely exist.
Editorial by Collins from NY Times found on October 22, 2011 here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/22/opinion/humming-to-higher-ed.html?_r=1&hp