New Work by Prof. Roksa Addresses Undergraduates Being Academically Adrift


It’s the season of schools starting back up for the year and some Curry researchers are thinking about the experiences undergraduates have on campus. With more and more students attending college to receive a 4-year degree, researchers are studying what graduates are doing and how their college experiences facilitate transition into adult roles after college.

Josipa Roksa, Ph.DJosipa Roksa, associate director of CASTL-HE and an affiliate faculty at EdPolicyWorks, is one of the authors of this work. In a new book, Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates, Roksa and colleagues examine approximately 1,000 recent college graduates’ successes and hardships, and the extent to which post-college outcomes are associated with collegiate experiences and academic performance.

“Many undergraduates experience limited academic demands and spend more time meandering than purposefully exploring,” explained Roksa.  “They are adrift in college, and continue to drift after graduation, struggling to find good jobs and remaining financially dependent on their parents.”

This research found that two years following an on-time college graduation:

  • 24 percent of graduates are back living at home with their parents;
  • 74 percent of graduates are receiving financial support from their families;
  • Only 47 percent of graduates in the labor market have full-time jobs that pay $30,000 or more annually.
  • Nonetheless, college graduates are very optimistic – 95 percent expect that their lives will be as good or better than those of their parents. 

“College fortifies graduates with a sense of optimism in the face of difficulties, without necessarily providing the tools to help realize their high expectations,” said Roksa. “Many students are not developing critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills, which are related to labor market success, nor are they developing attitudes and dispositions needed for adult success and participation in a democratic society.”

Roksa and colleagues argue that colleges and universities need to enhance academic rigor and assessment to improve student learning outcomes and support graduates’ early life-course success.

The work was co-written by Richard Arum, a professor in the Department of Sociology with a joint appointment in the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University and a senior fellow at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

This book was a follow-up to Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, published in 2011. In this initial book Arum and Roksa followed 1,600 students through the first two years of college, examining their academic and social experiences, and how much they learned (i.e., how much they developed general collegiate skills such as critical thinking, analytical reasoning and writing).

This work was also cited by:

Inside Higher Ed “Aspiring Adults Adrift
The Chronicle of Higher Education “Let’s Ask More of Our Students—and of Ourselves
The Chronicle of Higher Education “Do Americans Expect Too Much From a College Degree?
The Chronicle of Higher Education “‘Adrift’ After College: How Graduates Fail
The Chronicle of Higher Education “Were You ‘Adrift’ at 22?
The New York Times, UpShot “The Economic Price of Colleges’ Failures
Bloomberg Businessweek “Three Pie Charts That Prove You Shouldn’t Slack Off in College
Education Week “With Many College Grads Adrift, Experts Urge New Focus on Academics
The Wall Street Journal “Are Colleges Producing Career-Ready Graduates?
The Washington Post “Colleges drift away from their academic priorities
PBS Newshour “Why so many college grads are highly-educated, well placed, and going nowhere
CBSNews “Are colleges to blame for slackers?
Fox Business “College graduates left unprepared for real world?
Vox “Why hasn’t the class of 2009 grown up?
Money “3 Ways to Make Sure a Costly College Degree Pays Off
Times Higher Education “Interview with the authors of Aspiring Adults Adrift”
AOL Jobs “Is College Worth It?
MotherJones “Colleges Don’t Teach Much, but College Students Don’t Know It
WGBH “Graduates Face Tough Transition to Adulthood
LA Review of Books “Is College Still Worth It