College students today are spending less time studying than they did in
the past, according to a recent report. The University of California
study finds that the average student at a four-year college in 1961
studied about 24 hours a week. Today’s average student hits the books
for just 14 hours. That downward trend has been consistent across all
kinds of schools, majors, and students. But why is this happening? Here
are a few thoughts and theories, many of them courtesy of the very
thoughtful commenters at Mother Jones, where blogger Kevin Drum asked "professors and current students" to
- Study Leaders Cite Professor Apathy
The Boston Globe's Keith O'Brien writes, "when
it comes to 'why,' the answers are less clear. ... What might be causing
it, they suggest, is the growing power of students and professors’
unwillingness to challenge them."
- Modern Technology Not to
Blame The Boston Globe's Keith O'Brien says the study
leaders don't think so. "The easy culprits — the allure of the Internet
(Facebook!), the advent of new technologies (dude, what’s a card
catalog?), and the changing demographics of college campuses — don’t
appear to be driving the change, Babcock and Marks found." Why so sure?
"According to their research, the greatest decline in student studying
took place before computers swept through colleges: Between 1961 and
1981, study times fell from 24.4 to 16.8 hours per week (and then,
ultimately, to 14)."
- Grades Becoming Less Important Than
Activities An anonymous Mother Jones commenter writes, "I graduated
recently, and Prospective employers and graduate school admission
committees are very interested in your extracurricular and leadership
positions, or your research work. Grades matter, but they are not the
only thing. Perhaps in the seventies, grades were the main signal of
success, so students studied more?"
- Increase in 'Temporary,
Adjunct' Faculty Mother Jones commenter Lisa argues,
"Rise in numbers of temporary, adjunct faculty, who teach many, many
courses, and are terribly vulnerable to course evaluations (that's me,
by the way). One can only assign so much work and expect to be invited
back to teach -- plus, if you assign it, you have to read it and/or
grade it yourself, which, when you're teaching four or five classes on
multiple campuses, becomes impossible. This has become the bulk of
university teaching, by the way."
- Advent of Pass-Fail Classes, Fewer Language Requirements Mother Jones commenter hollywood writes, "Many colleges
dropped foreign language requirements for degrees (languages require a
lot of study time); schools adopted pass-fail courses with the natural
response 'why knock myself out?' There was significant grade
inflation--more people got better grades with less effort. Perhaps this
lack of study by students reduced the motivation of profs to kill
themselves prepping lectures and grading exams when there were journal
articles to crank out."
- Studying Methods Became More Efficient
G. Powell theorizes, "While the amount of time
that I spent on course work outside the classroom decreased, the quality
of that time increased.... The Internet is also a huge productivity
gain when it comes to tracking down information. What once took me hours
in basement stacks to track down now often only takes seconds."
- Rise in Publishing Requirements Means Professors Assign Less Work An
anonymous college professor explains, "This time period does
correspond with the increase in publishing expectations in Academia. I
haven't been teaching long enough to see the trend, but I definitely
weight the length of a problem set assignment against my research time
in a way I don't think prior generations of professors did."
Working Part-Time as Scholarships Decline Mother Jones commenter dob suggests, "I'm willing to bet
that students working jobs while going to college accounts for at least a
substantial fraction of that time. That characterized both me and at
least half of my college friends in the 90's. Scholarships and student
loans aren't what they used to be."
- Students Less Comfortable
With Long-Form Reading Mother Jones commenter sjw muses, "More and more students are
uncomfortable with reading. They read less.
They don't enjoy reading. Most of the homework that a professor
assigns is reading or involves reading -- it's not just busy work, as a
commenter above alleges -- so the 'collective mass' can't handle what
professors would like to assign. Whether tv or the internet are to
blame is not an argument that need be broached here; clearly, however,
the time that a student would put into studying is now going elsewhere."
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