September 2, 2014


In their 2011 book Academically Adrift, authors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, argued that colleges are failing to educate students. Many undergraduates, the authors wrote, are “drifting through college without a clear sense of purpose,” with more than a third of students not demonstrating any significant improvement in learning over four years in college.

Now Arum and Roksa have revisited a large sampling of those same undergraduates for a new book examining how they’ve fared after graduation. They’re no longer students, the authors write, but they are still adrift.

Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates, published today by the University of Chicago Press, is the story of a generation’s difficult transition to adulthood. Based on surveys and interviews with nearly 1,000 recent college graduates from the cohort featured in Academically Adrift, the book reports that a large number of graduates are having difficulty finding jobs, living somewhere other than a parent’s house, assuming civic and financial responsibility, and even developing stable romantic relationships. . . .

“Colleges are implicated in this,” Arum, a professor of sociology and education at New York University, said in an interview. “They’ve legitimated this. Students are going away to college for a longer and longer time. Colleges are disinvesting in faculty and investing in amenities.”

Many four-year universities attend to students’ social adjustment rather than developing their characters, he said, allocating resources toward what will attract teenagers to their campuses rather than what will help them learn. Campuses cater to satisfying consumer preferences instead of providing rigorous academics and connecting what students learn to the real world, Arum and Roksa write. Like students and aspiring adults, they argue, colleges and universities are also adrift. . . .

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. 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 those graduates were earning less than $20,000.

College selectivity did not significantly affect the graduates’ chances of employment, the authors write, and neither did gender, race or parental education.

It’s not a pretty picture.

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