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EDUCATION

Are Colleges Producing Career-Ready Graduates?


NewBookCallsOnSchoolstoFocusonImprovingAcademicStandards,NotStudents'
SocialLives
ByMELISSAKORN
Sept.3,20143:19p.m.ET

It'stimetostopdebatingthevalueofacollegeeducation,sayapairofprofessorsfromNewYork
UniversityandtheUniversityofVirginia.Instead,theysayinanewbook,parentsandemployersshould
askwhetherschoolsaredoingmuchtohelpstudentsbecomeproductiveadults.
SociologistsRichardArumandJosipaRoksatrackedmore
than1,600studentsduringcollegeandabout1,000fortwo
yearsaftertheir2009graduationdates.Theirfindingsare
dismaying:Ofthestudentswhodidn'tgoimmediatelyinto
graduateschool,slightlymorethanaquarterearnedabove
$40,000ayearinafulltimejobtwoyearsaftergraduation.
Nearlythreequartersreliedontheirparentsforatleast
somefinancialassistance.
NewYorkUniversity'sRichardArumLaurenMcCay
fortheSocialScie

Profs.ArumandRoksa,fromNYUandUVA,respectively,
havestingingwordsforAmericancolleges.

Their2011book,"AcademicallyAdrift,"rankledadministratorswiththeirfindingthatschoolsreward
studentsforminimaleffort.
"AspiringAdultsAdrift"picksupwheretheearlierworkleftoff,sayingthatcollegesfocustoomuchon
students'sociallivesattheexpenseofastrongacademicandcareerroadmap.What'smore,the
authorssay,schoolshavegiventheirchargesanunrealisticsenseofwhatittakestoachievetheirlife
aims,resultinginoverwhelmingandpossiblyunrealisticoptimismamongyoungpeopleabouttheir
prospects.
Manycollegeleadersmaytakeissuewiththebook'scritiques,butarecentInsideHigherEd/Galluppoll
ofmorethan800collegepresidentsfoundthatfewfeltthattheirschoolsaresuccessfullyteaching
criticalthinkingskillsandconnectingstudentswithinternshipopportunitiesduringschool.
Inarecentinterview,Profs.ArumandRoksadiscussedwaystoimprovethecollegetocareertransition.
Editedexcerpts:

WSJ:Youargueinthebookthatpeopleshouldstop
askingwhetheritpaystoattendcollege.What'stheright
question?
Prof.Arum:Inasocietywithincreasingeconomic
inequality,itabsolutelypaystogotocollege.Wethinkthe
questionis,"Arestudentsgettingthevaluefortheirtime
andmoneythattheyshouldbe?"
Studentsaren'tgettingvaluefortheirmoney.We've
reachedtheseexorbitantcostsintheU.S.notbecause
we'reinvestinginacademicprograms,but[becauseof]
newstudentcenters,athleticfacilities.Thathasnorelationshiptotheacademicoutcomesthatone
wouldhopestudentsachieve.
UniversityofVirginia'sJosipaRoksaUniversityof
VirginiaCurrySchoolofEducation

Prof.Roksa:Whiletheamenitiesandsocialengagementdon'tseemtomatterforlabormarket
outcomes,somethingsthathappenincollegedomatter.Whenstudentsgetinternshipsincollege,that
leadstobetteremploymentoutcomesafterward.
WSJ:Whyarecollegegraduatesstrugglingtoestablishthemselves?
Prof.Arum:Theyweren'tadequatelypreparedduringcollegetomakesuccessfultransitions.They
didn'tdevelopcriticalthinking,complexreasoning[skills]andtheabilitytocommunicateinwriting.[And]
theydidn'tdeveloptheattitudesanddispositionsduringcollegeassociatedwithadultsuccess.
Formany,[students']typicalexperiencewastheystudiedalonelittlemorethananhouraday,andfor
thatefforttheyreceivedhighgrades.Thestudentsinourstudywhostudiedalonefiveorfewerhoursa
weekhada3.2gradeaverage.Sotheylearnedincollegethatsuccesscomesrelativelyeasily.
Prof.Roksa:Studentsdon'tblamecollegesfortheircurrentdifficultiesintransitionsinthelabormarket.
Evenwhenthey'reunemployedandlivingathome,theyhavearemarkablesenseofoptimismaboutthe
future.Theydon'tnecessarilyseetheircurrentsituationasproblematic.
WSJ:Istheiroptimismunwarranted?
Prof.Arum:Optimismitselfisgood.It'sassociatedwithresilienceandpsychologicalhealth.The
problemisthelackofgroundinginskills,competencies,attitudes,dispositions,inknowingwhatittakes
torealizethehighexpectationsthatthestudentshold.
WSJ:Whatarethebroaderimplicationsofyoungadults'difficultyestablishingthemselvesaftercollege?
Prof.Roksa:Wedon'tthinkthatthey'regoingtobealostgeneration.
Whilemiddleclassanduppermiddleclassstudentshavetheluxuryofgoingtocollegeandnothaving
quitefiguredoutwhattodoandthenspendingtherestoftheir20sexploring,studentsfromless
advantagedfamiliesdon'tnecessarilyhavethatluxurytosupportthisprolongedtransitiontoadulthood.
Inequalitymaygrowevenfurther.
WSJ:Shouldcollegesthinkaboutdoingthingsdifferently?
Prof.Arum:Wewouldrecommendhighereducationadministratorsfocusonimprovingacademicrigor

andincreasingtheacademicstandardsattheirinstitutions.Thosefactorsareassociatedwiththe
developmentofgeneralcompetenciescriticalthinking,complexreasoningandwritingwhichare
associatedwithabroadsetofpositiveoutcomesintermsoftransitionstoadulthood.
[Wewouldalsorecommend]programsthatfacilitateschooltoworktransitions,intermsofinternships,
apprenticeships,jobplacementprograms.Businessmajorsoftenmakeextensiveuseofthose,andwe
seetheutilityforsuccessfullabormarkettransitions.
WSJ:Howshouldcollegesmeasureoutcomes?
Prof.Roksa:Lotsoftheoutcomesthatyouobserveaftercollegearemuchmoreafunctionofwho
studentsareandwhattheybringtocollegethanwhathappensthere.
Weshouldevaluatecollegebasedonwhatithasprimarycontrolover:criticalthinking,complex
thinking,writing,aswellassubjectspecificskills.Collegesthemselvesdon'tnecessarilyhavedirect
influenceonthelabormarket.Buttheydohavetheabilitytoinfluencehowmuchstudentslearn[and]
whethertheydeveloptherightattitudes.
WritetoMelissaKornatmelissa.korn@wsj.com
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