Research Universities Neglecting Students, Study Says

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Undergraduate students are increasingly being shortchanged by research universities as their tuition dollars pour into research and graduate programs at the expense of their own studies, a study released last week concludes.

Frequently taught by poorly trained teaching assistants or "tenured drones," undergraduates at the nation's 125 research universities too often graduate without a "coherent body of knowledge," says the report by the Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University, a group of 11 education officials.

Among other suggestions, it recommends that universities ensure that freshman-year studies are integrated and cohesive--not just a review of high school material.

The report, "Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for America's Research Universities," was financed by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, based in Menlo Park, Calif.

"Again and again, universities are guilty of an advertising practice they would condemn in the real world," the report says. "Recruitment materials display proudly the world-famous professors, the splendid facilities, and the groundbreaking research that goes on within them, but thousands of students graduate without ever seeing the world-famous professor or tasting real research."

In the study, research universities are defined as institutions that receive more than $15.5 million in federal support every year, award 50 or more doctoral degrees annually, and offer a full range of baccalaureate programs.

Research universities graduate 32 percent of the nation's 32 million undergraduates, but make up only 3 percent of its colleges and universities. Sizable Ivy League institutions such as Harvard and Yale qualify, as do most major state university systems.

Focus on 'Core Values'

The report suggests that every student be paired with a mentor, and that research universities create undergraduate programs that take advantage of their numerous resources, rather than trying to "replicate the special environment of the liberal arts colleges."

"What we need to do is to design undergraduate education that grows out of the core values of research institutions," Shirley Strum Kenny, the president of the State University of New York at Stony Brook and the chairwoman of the commission, said in an interview last week.

Like graduate programs, undergraduate courses of study at research universities need to encourage students to be "inquirers rather than receivers," she said.

The commission also calls on students to become more actively involved in their studies, and suggests that schools write an "academic bill of rights" that defines both student and institutional responsibilities.

"Receiving information was fine in the 1950s," Ms. Kenny said. "But it won't take us into the next millennium. There needs to be a synthesis between undergraduate and graduate study."

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