Many students and their profs are just visiting universities

During the last federal election campaign, opponents of Michael Ignatief said sarcastically that he was “just visiting.”

Probably it would have been much more appropriate if that epithet were applied to university students.

In a new book by Richard Arum and Josepa Roksa titled Academically Adrift the observations about post-secondary students are devastating. The book asserts most university students are wasting their time, as if they were “just visiting.” In the authors’ opinion most students merely are getting credentials that do not represent very much.

About one-third are not able to demonstrate any improvement in their scholastic aptitudes. Perhaps one-fifth are truly sensational, and some may try very hard, but most show scant evidence of any achievements.

It should be recognized that the authors of that book are learned individuals, not ordinary critics. As the basis of their research, they interviewed more than 2,300 university students; they were examined on their interpretative thinking, and their ability to write well.

Of course, universities claim that they are training students in those categories; all of them are critical in our post-industrial society. It is not surprising that our academic and political leaders argue that increasing the number who attend universities is vital for our economy. Unfortunately, our post-secondary institutions fail to deliver youths with better thought processes.

The book authors assert the average student devotes only 12 hours a week studying and is occupied in scholarly activities for just 30 hours per week. Then, too, 37% spend less than five hours a week studying.

Many courses demand very little, with only about half of senior year students required to submit 20 pages of writing for any semester. To reinforce that slack approach most do not complete the bachelors program in four years, and many take six years to do so. It is very common for students to fulfill only the absolute minimum prerequisites.

To compound that problem, the standard teacher commits only about 11 hours a week to classroom instruction and student counselling. It seems obvious that we are sending too many youngsters to post-secondary centres to get jobs for which the little they learn is unnecessary.

Instead, we should emphasize vocational training and apprenticeship programs. In addition, in order to compete and survive in a new global economy, we must be training more engineers, experts in technology that is knowledge workers.

Clearly, however, the myth should be dispelled that higher education by itself will improve everyone’s cognitive ability.

Huge number of youngsters at post-secondary schools are, in a manner of speaking, just “spinning their wheels,” as is the case with a great many in their teaching staffs.


Bruce Whitestone