In this paper, we examine the problem of underachievement in higher education. We begin by seeking to establish that the quality of learning among undergraduates is, as a whole, limited. Undergraduate underachievement cannot be attributed to any single cause. Quite the contrary, we argue that the origins of underperformance in the academy are systemic, coactive and multi-layered. At the proximal level of teaching and learning, we identify four mutually reinforcing processes that contribute to student underachievement: (a) fragmentation of the curriculum, (b) entrant knowledge level and skills gaps; (c) student culture, and (d) pedagogical ineffectiveness. At a more distal level, these processes operate within a set of macro-level systems and influences, including (a) economic pressures and academic commercialization, (b) specialization of expertise within the academy, (c) a culture of entitlement, amusement, and indulgence outside of the academy, and (d) constraints related to governmental and socio-economic infrastructure. In this paper, we examine the interplay among systems of teaching and learning operating within the academy that lead most directly to academic underachievement. We argue that any attempts to improve student learning must proceed by seeking systemic change, however incremental and long term. Such change requires acknowledging the ways in which fissures and tensions within the academy work against the goal of fostering integrative teaching and learning.
Mascolo, M. F., & Castillo, J. (2015). The Origins of Underperformance in Higher Education in America: Proximal Systems of Influence. Pedagogy and the Human Sciences, 5 (1), 1-40. Retrieved from https://scholarworks.merrimack.edu/phs/vol5/iss1/1