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Report: First two years of college full of socializing, not learning

Students spend the first two years of college socializing, joining student clubs and working, but for nearly half of undergraduate students, learning is not happening, a new report says.

A new book, co-authored by sociology professors Richard Arum, of New York University, and Josipa Roksa, of University of Virginia, “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” said attendance in colleges and universities is constantly increasing, despite the lack of focus on learning.

A new standardized test called the College Learning Assessment was given to 2,300 students in their first semester at 24 different institutions. The test was then given again to the same students at the end of their second year of college. The test measured a wide range of skills including critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing. The study said 45 percent of students show no significant gain in learning in their first two years of college.

The issue is not that students are not getting good grades or failing out of college. Arum said the students who studied, on average, received a 3.2 grade point average. He said students were able to navigate through classes with relative ease, without really learning anything.

The study said professors spend much of their time on research and development in their field and that large lower-level courses are not a priority.

Emily Widener, a second-year in communication, said she has learned a lot of information, but a lot of it had nothing to do with her major.

Widener also said some of the professors in large general education curriculum classes showed little to no interest in teaching, but rather throwing out information and expecting students to regurgitate the facts.

“I feel like some professors only teach the lower-level classes because they have to,” Widener said. “It’s almost like they don’t care about the class, and it reflects in the way they present information.”

Widener said her first year-and-a-half is partly an expansion on high school. Widener has taken three quarters of Spanish at Ohio State, but said she didn’t learn anything more than what she learned in high school.

The study said one of the main problems with the modern model of higher education is that colleges simply do not make learning a priority. Socializing distracts students, and today’s culture places undergraduate learning near the bottom of students’ priority list.

Alex Lefeld, a fourth-year in theater, said he has learned significantly more during his third and fourth years of college than his first two years. He said a lot of his classes in his first two years were boring GECs that lacked much learning.

“The 100-level English I took was all about rhetoric and was very opinionated. Since it was all opinion, I learned almost nothing,” Lefeld said.

Lefeld also said in some of his larger classes such as math or sociology, there was no connection between the lecturer and the student, and that made for a difficult learning environment. Lefeld said in one of his larger GEC classes, the level the lecturer cared about the class surprised him.

“This lecturer actually visited all the different recitation courses from time to time to see how the students were doing,” Lefeld said.

The study also broke down how an average student spends his or her time. It found that students spend 51 percent of their time socializing, 24 percent sleeping, 9 percent working, volunteering or at student clubs, 9 percent attending class and 7 percent studying.

When presented with this information, Widener said this sounded identical to how she spends her time.

“The first year of college is all about socializing and getting involved in different clubs and organizations,” Widener said. “Ohio State really tries to push us to find the balance between our social life and our studies.”


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