Sunday, January 18, 2015

Book Review: Aspiring Adults Adrift

Educational sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa have followed up their 2011 book Academically Adrift (which I review here) with Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates (2014). The new book, based on follow-up data from the same cohort studied in the earlier book, expands beyond the earlier book's inquiry into students' cognitive gains during college to investigate students' progress two years after graduation in domains such as employment, graduate education, romantic relationships, and living independently.

Some may question the entire premise of Aspiring Adults Adrift on the grounds that two years is too short a time frame to expect college graduates to have made major strides in traditional adult roles. Considering the state of the U.S. economy around the time of the students' 2009 graduation, difficulties establishing oneself in the workforce and other domains would indeed not be surprising.

In addition to providing basic descriptive information (e.g., percentages of graduates who are employed full-time, part-time, and not at all, two years out of college, and what kinds of salary they are making), Arum and Roksa test for correlation between academic aspects of the students' college experiences and their post-college success in the real world. College variables include students' performance on the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA; a major part of Academically Adrift), institutional selectivity, and field of study.

Many of the statistical relationships between college variables and post-college success seemed rather modest. For example, with high and low CLA performance defined as one standard deviation above and below the mean, respectively, roughly 15% of low CLA scorers ended up in unskilled occupations, compared to 10% of high scorers.

Beyond the empiricism, Arum and Roksa have some larger points to make about U.S. higher education. Social aspects of college -- not just the party scene, but putting a high priority on meeting and getting along with fellow students from diverse backgrounds --  appear to be gaining in importance. Academic standards have so declined, the authors argue, that students see mere completion of all assigned work in a class as something noteworthy.

Aspiring Adults Adrift is not without interesting themes. However, for reasons noted above, I would recommend it only for readers with a specialized interest in college-student development.

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