DECATUR – Shocking a room full of educators Thursday was a story of a college graduate with a business degree and 3.9 GPA who lived at home with parents and worked in a job paying less than $20,000 a year.
The individual served as one of more than 2,000 students from two dozen, four-year higher education institutions who took part in a longitudinal study that assessed the college and post-degree experience.
The study found that a striking number of students lacked academic rigor and struggled with transitioning to adulthood, said Richard Arum, a professor of sociology and education at New York University.
Arum spoke about his findings at Richland Community College and cited critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication as indispensable skills needed to succeed as a 21st century adult.
“It's no longer the case that you graduate, find employment and have a stable, lifetime job,” he said. “They don't exist anymore.”
Mastering the skills would prepare students to transition from job to job and allow them to function as democratic citizens, he said, adding that the lack of students' civic engagement proved the most shocking in the study results.
“The challenges we are facing as a society – politically, economically, socially, environmentally – require college graduates, who are the educated elite of our society, to be at the forefront of democratic citizenship,” he said. “And what's really frightening is they're not developing the skills necessary for a democracy.”
According to the study, almost 40 percent of students said they only spoke about politics or read the newspaper either once a month or never.
Compared to a few decades ago, students reported spending half as much time doing academic work inside and outside of the classroom, decreasing from 40 hours a week to 20 hours.
According to the study, students on average would spend 51 percent of their time socializing and participating in recreational activities, 9 percent attending class and 7 percent studying.
Arum has co-authored two books based on the study titled “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses” and “Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates.”
His presentation was funded through the Bridging the Gap grant Richland received from the Illinois Community College Board, used to promote successful transitions for students into higher education and adulthood.
“Our employers have expectations that our students who graduate will be able to apply what they have learned in the classroom, and in innovative ways, to the workplace,” Richland President Gayle Saunders said.