First years of college show little gains in key skills

Published by adviser, Author: Will DeShong - Staff Reporter, Date: April 13, 2012

A study published last year found that 45 percent of college students showed no significant improvement in key skills such as critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing after two years of studies.

Sociologists Richard Arum, of New York University, and Josipa Roska, of the University of Virginia, concluded from their research of 2,300 undergraduates from 24 universities across the country that first and second year students are more concerned with socializing than they are with their academic pursuits.

The data comes from a variety of research methods used by the two scientists, including survey responses, transcript data and a standardized test given to students in their first semester and then again at the end of their second year.

While Arum and Roska, who published a book titled “Academically Adrif: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” assert that the first two years of college are basically useless, Dr. Mark Campbell, the chairperson of the department of Academic Services at Slippery Rock University, isn’t convinced of the statistics in the study, particularly in relation to SRU.

“Every year our admission requirements get higher and higher,” Campbell said in regards to incoming freshmen’s SAT scores and high school GPA. “We’re attracting very high applicants. I don’t know if I would agree with the findings. I would be surprised if that was found here.”

Campbell, who deals heavily with underclassmen in the exploratory program, also used the university’s 81 percent retention rate for first year students as a marker that the majority of SRU freshman are progressing enough to stay in school.

While Campbell is confident in the advancement of students at SRU, he does agree with the notion that students are far more focused on socializing with friends rather than studies.

“Social networking, cell phones, video games – that stuff didn’t exist when I was in college,” Campbell said. “And that stuff is more fun than sitting down and writing a paper alone.”

To help combat the factors detracting from students’ studies in their first semesters in college, SRU has developed their FYRST Advising Program, which is aimed at providing students with the tools to adjust to college studies.

Campbell feels that there are key aspects of the program that give students sufficient help in progressing in college and developing study skills, warding off the unwanted results of the study at SRU.

Instead of tossing students directly into courses centered on a certain major, Campbell said students typically take liberal studies courses early on to set the framework for their academic careers.

“In the first year or so we try to give students a strong foundation, then in their junior and senior years start to tackle upper level course work,” Campbell said about the nature in which curriculum is set up at SRU. “We try to get them to develop basic skills, and then start their major in their sophomore and junior year.”

While Campbell is satisfied with the programs the university has in place to assist students early on in their academic lives, he feels it is ultimately up to them to succeed.

“I think people get out of programs what they put in,” Campbell said. “An institution can offer good advisement but students have to do it themselves. And Slippery Rock students, for the most part, are doing what they need to do.”

Even though Campbell doesn’t hold the findings true to the academic culture at SRU, he isn’t surprised to see studies like it being reported on.

“There’s a lot of scrutiny on higher education right now,” Campbell said. “There’s concern nationwide. It’s a hot topic to get people stirred up about and I think that’s causing the press to focus on these types of studies.”


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