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Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More

3.82  ·  Rating Details  ·  138 Ratings  ·  16 Reviews
Drawing on a large body of empirical evidence, former Harvard President Derek Bok examines how much progress college students actually make toward widely accepted goals of undergraduate education. His conclusions are sobering. Although most students make gains in many important respects, they improve much less than they should in such important areas as writing, critical t ...more
Hardcover, 413 pages
Published January 16th 2006 by Princeton University Press (first published 2005)
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Jun 06, 2007 Jeff rated it it was amazing
Derek Bok is one of the most thoughtful observers (and participants) in higher education today. As president of Harvard for 20 years (1971 - 1991) he had many opportunities to see first hand how an elite university works--or doesn't. Many years ago I read his book "The State of the Nation", which I found to be a reasonable analysis of many of the difficult issues facing the country. In "Our Underacheiving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More", B ...more
Shelley Byron
I am trying not to underline the whole book.

Resisting commercialization cannot be an excuse for resisting change. Pg. 6

The potential for higher earning power doesn't mean that it will happen. Pg 7 Where are these statistics?

Additional large rewards for a BA? Seriously? Pg 8.

Cornell pres: "mental discipline by unwanted topics is like physical nourishment by unwanted food." Pg. 15. If it were wanted, where, then, does the discipline come in?

Post WWII, people went to college for job training rather
Patrick Koehn
Sep 04, 2007 Patrick Koehn rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: any college educator
A clear voice that describes what we already know about American universities - we are far less interested in education than we think we are. Read it and despair. Or be willing to do something about it.
Kari Jo
This book gives a baseline for understanding student learning in higher education. I had to read it for a Student Outcomes class in the last semester of my graduate program - I feel as though it would have been better suited earlier in the program.

As a positive, the text is not too dense, which makes it easy to understand and a relatively quick read. Sometimes texts like this try too hard to sound important and thusly lose the focus of the reader.

Negatively, however, this book could have been mo
Zachary Zhao
Jan 27, 2012 Zachary Zhao rated it really liked it
This book represents a courageous effort by Harvard University's former president Derek Bok who offers a critical examination of America's underachieving colleges. Drawing from his own experience and supported by concrete (albeit occasionally dubious) empirical research, Bok goes to great lengths to explain why he thinks America's undergraduate education is not living up to its reputation and potential, and offers his own recommendations on what he believes the goals of undergraduate education s ...more
Jan 25, 2008 Irami added it
Bok's best contribution to the higher education debate is his acknowledgment that undergraduate colleges have a multiplicity of goals, and like Greek Gods, those goals are noble and warring. An undergraduate University should help students express themselves with more clarity and grace, foster habits of careful moral deliberation and the courage to act on ones deliberations, and in addition, impart a skill that's amenable to earning a decent wage. The problem is that these manifold aims are ofte ...more
Dec 26, 2013 Mof rated it it was amazing
Shelves: education, higher
As a two time president of Harvard, Derek Bok knows college education.

First he asks important questions:
Are students learning more than 1950?
Has the quality of teaching improved?
Can students write with greater style and grace?
Do they speak foreign languages more fluently?
Read text with greater understanding?
Analyze problems more rigorously?

With the growing importance of college as a signaling mechanism there is a tension of acquisition of knowledge vs acquisition of skills.

What is the Role of
Feb 29, 2008 Angel rated it it was ok
Shelves: education
I was not too impressed with this book. Maybe it is because I am an experienced teacher, and I have been in higher education long enough to see the points Bok is making about complacency in academia and the entrenched conservative ways that prevent change. After reading for a while, you can easily end up despairing at a system that pretty much refuses to change while the rest of the world is at the gates besieging them. Some of what he writes I have seen elsewhere in bits and pieces. The fact is ...more
Jun 06, 2008 Tiffany rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people interested in the higher-education system
Why Colleges Suck or Why College Is Broken.

This book is a good critique of how colleges are failing, or at least how they can better serve students. Some of Bok's ideas are reasonable, but some just seem overly idyllic. Still, even if his ideas aren't 100% feasible, the book is an interesting analysis of the college system, from the need to give students better communication skills (especially writing) to the idea of the college environment as a lesson in multicultural awareness.

The book also m
Oct 12, 2009 Corey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book strikes a nice middle ground between those who believe the modern university is fundamenally flawed, and those who don't see a reason to change anything. Bok reviews both arguments and more importantly, evidence on all of the core components of general education, including critical thinking, communication, character, citizenship, appreciation of diversity, and global perspective. He shows that higher education works (there are gains in all of these areas in most undergraduates), but th ...more
Aug 04, 2008 Anna rated it really liked it
This is why I want to go to grad school, to study this sort of thing. The title is a bit depressing, colleges aren't "failing", but they have a lot of room for improvement, which Bok details very well. His suggestions are common sense initiatives directed at undergraduate education. It is good to know that SHC does some things well, such as writing skills. Large institutions just can't handle teaching good writing to 30-50,000 students. But small schools I think do this well, at least mine does. ...more
Jeff Grann
Jun 09, 2013 Jeff Grann rated it really liked it
Shelves: education
Offers a condensed, but still interesting, review of higher education as an industry - focusing on the evolving purpose of higher education and public expectations. Reviews current state of teaching/learning relative to several important outcomes and finds practices unacceptable. Suggested solutions are somewhat beyond most readers sphere of influence. Hopefully this book can focus public/media attention on teaching practices in higher education.
Jul 25, 2013 Steve rated it liked it
Bok, former President of Harvard, makes sensible observations about how colleges have tried to improve student learning over the years, and what programs seem to work best or at least hold the most promise. Not earth-shaking, but college administrators, faculty, trustees, and students could learn from this book. As an insider, Bok at least doesn't misunderstand the college context, as some outside "reformers" do.
Leonard Houx
Sep 09, 2012 Leonard Houx rated it it was amazing
Yes: a book about the future of education that is not hysterical. In fact, it's remarkably clear, practical, and balanced.
Insightful commentary and advice to strengthen collegiate education.
Feb 24, 2008 Chris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Good book. Derek Bok is smart.
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Derek Curtis Bok (born March 22, 1930) is an American lawyer and educator, and the former president of Harvard University.

Bok was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Stanford University (B.A., 1951), Harvard Law School (J.D., 1954), and George Washington University (A.M., 1958). He taught law at Harvard from 1958, where he served as dean of the law school (1968–1971) and then as un
More about Derek Bok...

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