Upon returning to Williamsburg at the start of the new semester, many students recall that they are not merely returning to campus, but also to school. It’s strange how certain, blatant facts somehow escape one’s mind. According to a recent study, students at the College of William and Mary are not alone in forgetting the true purpose of a college education. In fact, for many, this academic amnesia appears to be a much more serious issue. A study found in “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” a book by sociologists Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia, found that 45 percent of undergraduate students demonstrate no significant advancement in their intellectual skills in the first two years of college.
While there is a lack of motivation to actually address this issue, there is no shortage of speculation on the reason for this cerebral slump. Pundits, talk show hosts, news anchors and even my local dry cleaner all offer explanations: All students want to do is party; young adults are just not academically minded; the absence of parental influence sends college kids out of control; professors are to blame for not being motivational enough; and so forth. Although many of these explanations may hold some truth, the real reason may be much simpler: Students entering college are burnt out. Their entire academic careers, which have occupied the majority of their lives thus far, have been dedicated to the great race of just getting into college. Subconsciously students mostly think of college as the Promised Land, and of these years as their glory days. Unfortunately, no one adequately emphasizes the fact that once you get into college you have to work even harder. It is not too difficult to see why the typcal response to getting into college is relief and celebration after years of a nose-to-the-grindstone mentality, months dedicated to extracurricular activities, mass preparation for standardized tests, exhaustive efforts to apply to schools and the subtle cutthroat atmosphere of the application process.
Of course, once the honeymoon period comes to a close, students tend to return to their former serious selves. Some students may overstay their time in the Hawaii hotel suite of the mind, but these are sometimes less than pleased with the consequences of that intellectual hiatus. The results of lingering in a celebratory mentality have been successfully dealt with for sometime. Some people lose their way and, perhaps, are unable to get into medical school. They end up taking jobs out of college, and even though their plans may not work out quite as they intended, life generally goes on. Society has not yet crumbled due to this temporary state of academic catatonia. Still, this is not to say that the issue behind it should not be addressed. Steps should be taken by parents and schools to change students’ mentality from learning in order to get into some program or school to learning for the sake of learning in order to increase their general knowledge. Some prestigious universities have already addressed this issue by establishing a pass/fail system, which can be used by underclassmen to get through their period of intellectual stagnation, such as lessening the extent of academic core requirements.
Perhaps, the College — along with the rest of the universities that have not yet begun to address these issues — can look to their more progressive peers for some advice.