A closer look at the Academically Adrift study, which found “limited learning” on campus, shows a brighter picture, argues Sara Goldrick-Rab. College students made significant learning gains, she writes on Education Optimists.
First-year students with a high school-educated parent start out well behind (.47 standard deviations) students whose parents completed graduate school, she writes. “The learning gains made during college are equivalent in size to the advantage that a student from an educationally-advantaged family holds over a first-generation student.”
Advantaged students make bigger gains during college, so the gap increases slightly. But all students end up ahead of where they started.
Social inequalities are very hard to close—we won’t be reassigning children to new parents anytime soon. But four years of college clearly raises student achievement, and it is an intervention we can promote and can afford.
“College is transformative for learning,” for most students, Goldrick-Rab concludes. “The real tragedy is that higher education does not focus more attention on the neediest students in order to close the gaps that affect the stability and fabric of our everyday lives.”