Is college too easy? As study time falls, debate rises: Philip Babcock and Mindy Marks unearthed previous research, part of a longitudinal study called Project Talent, that showed students of 1961 spent about 24 hours a week studying.
They calculated that those students spent another 16 hours in class time, or 40 hours in total weekly scholarship, giving college, for them, the feel of a full-time endeavor.
By contrast, the typical student today spends 27 hours a week in study and class time, roughly the same time commitment expected of students in a modern full-day kindergarten.
There is no getting around the numbers; college students study significantly less than did their peers from half a century ago. This cannot be questioned. What can be questioned, though – and should be – are the reasons being offered for this change in study time. The WP piece quotes quite a few people involved in higher education, including a few university presidents who note that many students now have full-time jobs while in college, a definite change from 1961. Others posit that general student laziness is to blame, while yet others label a culture of entitlement as the culprit (i.e. students expect to receive an A for doing a minimal amount of work.
Where the study in question falls short, and where the WP reporter, Daniel de vise, fails in solid reporting, is to ask the glaring question of what relationship study time has on grades and graduation rates. Moreover, the article completely overlooks the hundreds of hours of research that have been saved with the digitization libraries, the ever-decreasing time it takes to find the information one is looking for, and the new-fangled research tool called the Internet. With a few quick searches on ATLA and JSTOR I can access most everything that has been written on 4th century Christian baptismal practices and have a listed of reliable resources (that will surely lead me to more resources) in a matter of minutes. A query of this nature would have taken hours just to yield the results of what books and articles one should look at in 1961.
There is another factor, though, that I believe has contributed to the decline in study time and the decline in high performing students with exceptional critical thinking skills. With more and more budgets drastically cutting education funding, professors increasingly have to take on more classroom responsibilities as well as more responsibilities outside of the classroom. This often results in the professor assigning fewer assignments simply because of the lack of time to grade them as well as professors grading assignments merely for completion instead of accuracy, again because it simply takes too long to grade 200 synoptic gospel underlining assignments between class periods, for example.
Finally, the increasing push toward a student-as-consumer model is nothing if not detrimental to higher education. In this model, which many universities, states, and politicians have begun to implement or enforce, professors are evaluated on student achievement and student surveys. There simply is not mechanism in place to accurately, objectively, and quantifiably assess professors. It takes too much work and administrators are either unwilling to do the work or unable to (e.g. lack of knowledge how to or lack of time). The result of this model is that professors are reprimanded if too many students fail, affecting universities’ precious graduation rates.
Simply put, there are many systemic problems in higher education today. Declining study time may be a symptom of some of these problems (it also may not be). What is clear, though, is that actually educating students is no longer the top priority of colleges and universities (was it ever?) – I think this is both on the part of the school as well as students, many of whom do honestly want just to have fun for 4 or 5 years. To be sure, this is partly about the future competitiveness of our country, but it is also about so much more than that; namely, effectively educating ourselves, our children, and our children’s children.
We, as a society, can do better. We should do better. We must do better.