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Higher Education: Are college grads “drifting dreamers”? college grads are “aimless, misled, and in debt,” says sociologist Richard Arum in a New York Times op-ed yesterday. Arum is the author of Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. We know about the record debt burden shouldered by many college grads, which we discussed earlier this week on

But aimless and misled?

College grads are highly motivated and ambitious, Arum says—but directionless. They don’t know where they are going or how to get there. Recent waves of graduates are “drifting dreamers,” using a term coined by sociologists Barbara Schneider and David Stevenson. Big dreams, but little ability or knowledge of how to realize them.

But Arum doesn’t place the blame only on the grads. Based on his research with Josipa Roksa, he concludes that American institutions of higher education are not rigorous enough and have “abandoned responsibility for shaping and developing the attitudes and dispositions necessary for adult success.”

Just what are those attitudes and abilities? Character traits are seen as the most important factors, according the Pew study we’ve reported on this week. For example, 6 of 10 Americans say “a good work ethic” is extremely important. Teamwork and getting along with others is also important, cited by 57%. A college education itself was cited by fewer than half (42%) as a determinant of success.

What’s your opinion? Are today’s grads ambitious but aimless?

Are colleges and universities failing to teach the right stuff?

Or is Arum’s indictment off base?

Originally published at, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.

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Categories: Self-Reliance