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Does college actually prepare students for adulthood? New book has some doubts

SHARE Does college actually prepare students for adulthood? New book has some doubts

XIANGYANG ZHANG, Getty Images/iStockphoto

The authors of a stinging 2011 book castigating colleges for leaving students adrift on campus are back with a new book, based on a survey of 1,000 recent graduates, that finds they are doing little better now that they have graduated.

The 2011 book, "Academically Adrift," by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, found that students were gaining little learning and not being prepared for the challenges ahead.

"Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates," now finds that the malaise follows students after the cap and gown rentals are returned.

The root of the problem, the authors argue, is that colleges cater to students' social expectations and urge for open-ended exploration, rather than preparing them for the hard road ahead.

"Widespread cultural commitment to consumer choice and individual rights, self-fulfillment and sociability, and well-being and a broader therapeutic ethic leave little room for students or schools to embrace programs that promote academic rigor," they write.

"One in four of the students surveyed and interviewed for the book reported that they were living at home two years after graduation, a proportion that is nearly double than in the 1960s," Inside Higher Ed noted in summarizing the book's findings. "More than half said their lives lacked direction. Seven percent reported being unemployed, 12 percent said they had part-time jobs, and 30 percent were working full-time but earning less than $30,000 a year. Half of the graduates were earning less than $20,000."

The current trend is particularly troubling for low-income students who struggle into college to get ahead.

"While middle-class and upper-middle-class students have the luxury of going to college and not having quite figured out what to do and then spending the rest of their 20s exploring," Roksa told the Wall Street Journal in an interview, "students from less advantaged families don't necessarily have that luxury to support this prolonged transition to adulthood. Inequality may grow even further."

"The people Arum and Roksa interviewed sounded like my high school and college classmates," writes Libby Nelson at Vox. "A business major who partied his way to a 3.9 GPA, then ended up working a delivery job he found on Craigslist, sounded familiar; so did a public health major who was living at home two years after graduation, planning to go to nursing school. Everyone in the class of 2009 knows someone with a story like that."

"About a third of students in their study made virtually no improvement on a test of critical thinking and reasoning over four years of college," Nelson adds. "Aspiring Adults Adrift" argues that this hurt them in the job market. Students with higher critical thinking scores were less likely to be unemployed, less likely to end up in unskilled jobs, and less likely to lose their jobs once they had them."

Email: eschulzke@desnews.com