It's a hot question these days: Is college worth it? But writing for the Los Angeles Times, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa don't beat the same old "expensive! bad job market!" angle into the ground. Instead they wonder if it's worth it because it's just becoming so darn easy to graduate. Arum and Roksa, sociology professors at NYU and UVa, respectively, tracked thousands of students at more than two dozen schools, and what they found smells pretty academic lite: In an average semester, 32% of kids had no classes that required reading more than 40 pages a week; 36% studied solo for just five hours, or less, a week. And a third—shockingly—showed no substantial gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing ability after their four years.
Such gains require "academic engagement; simply hanging out on a college campus for multiple years isn't enough. Yet at many institutions, that seems to be sufficient to earn a degree." Universities provide a roster of easy programs, and hand out high grades like candy. Those who studied alone five or fewer hours per week "had an average cumulative GPA of 3.16." The problem is that this is what matters most to schools: "admission yields, graduation rates, faculty research productivity, pharmaceutical patents, deluxe dormitory rooms, elaborate student centers, and state-of-the-art athletic facilities complete with luxury boxes." And so students get shafted, entering that bad job market unprepared—with little more than "a paper diploma and an expanded roster of Facebook friends." (Read more college stories.)