They earned a degree and then …

College students don’t work very hard or learn very much, concluded Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa in their 2011 book, Academically Adrift.

How did those students do when they graduated and hit very tough job market? Not well at all, they write in Aspiring Adults Adrift.

Arum and Roksa followed 1,000 graduates for two years. “Fifty-three percent of the college graduates who were not re-enrolled full-time in school were unemployed, employed part-time, or employed in full-time jobs that paid less than $30,000 annually,” they write.

Their earlier book observed that many college students “took easy courses, regarded themselves as privileged customers, socialized heavily, and came away with little to show for their years on campus,” reports Businessweek.

Two years after college, only a little over a quarter of the students had landed jobs paying better than $40,000 a year.

Richard Arum, Josipa Roksa

Many college graduates struggle with the transition to adulthood, write Arum and Roksa in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

One quarter were living with their parents and three-quarters still were receiving financial assistance from parents.

Other measures of adulthood were lacking, such as democratic citizenship. “Two years after graduation, 36 percent of our respondents reported never reading a newspaper in print or online or doing so only once a month; 39 percent reported discussing politics at similarly low frequencies,” write Arum and Roksa.

U.S. colleges need to do a better job improving skills such as critical thinking and complex reasoning, they argue.

The math problem: All rote, no reasoning

Most new community college students are placed in remedial math, despite having completed all their high school math requirements. They may have memorized a handful of procedures, but they don’t understand what they’re doing, writes Nate Kornell in Psychology Today.

For example, new research, building on studies in 2011 and 2010, show few community college students can place -o.7 and 13/8 on a number line that runs from -2 to 2. Asked which is greater, a/5 or a/8, 53 percent answered correctly, barely beating a coin toss.

Some fell back on procedural knowledge, probably because that’s the only knowledge they had about fractions. For example, seeing two fractions near each other apparently triggered an urge in some students to use the cross-multiplication procedure they had memorized.

Students also did addition and subtraction mindlessly.

In an interview one student was asked if he could think of a way to check whether 462+253 = 715. He smartly subtracted 253 from 715 and came out with 462. So far so good. But when he was asked whether he could have subtracted 462 from 715 instead, he said he did not think so.

Students could not take advantage of relationships between problems to find easy solutions, such as going from 10 x 3 to 10 x 13 to 20 x 13. Most worked out every problem, frequently making errors that defied common sense. Here’s how one student solved a series of related multiplication problems:

10 ×  3 = 30
10 × 13 = 130
20 × 13 = 86
30 × 13 = 120
31 × 13 = 123
29 × 13 = 116
22 × 13 = 92

Asked what it means to be good at mathematics, remedial community college students said math is “all memorization” or “just all these steps.”  One said, “In math, sometimes you have to just accept that that’s the way it is and there’s no reason behind it.”

If you think there’s no reason behind math, then there’s no reason the answer to 20 x 13 can’t be smaller than the answer to 10 x 13.