When Professor of Mathematics Dennis Schneider brought up a study concerning how little time college students spend on academics during a Student Life Committee (SLC) meeting two weeks ago, it was much to the dismay of students and others in attendance.
“Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” a book released in January, finds that most college students make little to no progress throughout their four years. Schneider was referring to an “Inside Higher Ed” article about the study.
Schneider expressed the concern that students may “overextend themselves in student groups and social activities at the expense of academics.”
The study found that 45 percent of students did not “significantly” improve during the first two years of college, and 36 percent did not do so after four years. Those who did improve after four years only did so by 0.47 standard deviations on average.
“We no longer have the luxury to put large numbers of kids through college and university and not demand of them that they are developing these higher-order skills,” Professor of Sociology at New York University and “Academically Adrift” co-author Richard Arum said in an interview with National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition.”
The study also mentions that students involved in liberal arts see “significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills over time than students in other fields of study,” a detail that was overlooked during the SLC discussion.
“I have taught at four other academic institutions,” Professor of Theatre and SLC chair Elizabeth Carlin-Metz said. “I can tell you the difference between a Knox student and a ‘that school’ student is night and day. Those kids fall into the lack of rigor, ‘going to school to major in party’ role.”
In a recent survey of 100 respondents conducted by The Knox Student, 34 percent reported that they spend 5 to 10 hours on extracurricular activities and 22 percent spend 11 to 15 hours.
In a recent survey of 100 respondents conducted by The Knox Student, 34 percent reported that they spend 5 to 10 hours on extracurricular activities, and 22 percent spend 11 to 15 hours. Despite this, a majority of respondents reported that they spend somewhere between 11 and 20 hours per week on homework outside of class.
Freshman Matthew Flesher argues that one should not make such a clear distinction between academic enterprise and extracurricular activities.
“All non-academic things engender academic thinking,” Flesher said. “I would definitely consider things like choir, band and ensembles to be intellectual. They have a social component, but they’re still a grand aspect of intellectualism at the underpinnings.”
However, Flesher does acknowledge the findings in “Academically Adrift” as relevant on a national scale. He spoke to the idea that most students who attend larger universities are “tricking themselves.”
“They’re just getting a piece of paper, a certificate that says ‘I spent time…somewhere.’ For all of the character development and actual learning that takes place, you may as well just put them in prison,” Flesher said.
But while he does not see much of this at Knox, he worries that it could find its way in.
“I don’t want Knox to become a ‘I just want to pass’ kind of place,” Flesher said.
“Academically Adrift” also asserts that participation in fraternities and sororities is detrimental to the college learning experience. Since the SLC discussion surfaced amidst an ongoing consideration of Greek life at Knox, people certainly had something to say to the contrary.
Interfraternity Council president-elect junior Sam Frank earned a 2.7 and 2.6 grade point average during his first two terms at Knox, and since he joined Sigma Chi, he has averaged a 3.7.
“You have a support group to draw on, you have an expectation of doing well, and that can help a lot of people,” Frank said.