College is too easy for its own good

College is too easy for its own good, write Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, authors of Academically Adrift, in the LA Times.

Colleges have abandoned responsibility for shaping students’ academic development and instead have come to embrace a service model that caters to satisfying students’ expressed desires.

Full-time college students spend half as much time studying as they did in 1960, according to labor economists. Many students manage to get by without doing much reading or writing — or learning, they write.

Moreover, from 1970 to 2000, as colleges increasingly hired additional staff to attend to student social and personal needs, the percentage of professional employees in higher education who were faculty decreased from about two-thirds to around one-half. At the same time, through their professional advancement and tenure policies, schools encouraged faculty to focus more on research rather than teaching. When teaching was considered as part of the equation, student course assessments tended to be the method used to evaluate teaching, which tends to incentivize lenient grading and entertaining forms of instruction.

If true, colleges are doomed, writes Darren on Right on the Left Coast.

Certainly, there are cheaper ways for young people to find beer-and-pizza mates.

Lazy business majors

Business majors not pulling their weight? Taiwanese animators at NMA take on reports that U.S. business students don’t work very hard or learn very much.

Does college make you smarter?

Does college make you smarter? Not so much, say respondents on the New York Times’ Room for Debate.

First there was the news that students in American universities study a lot less than they used to. Now we hear, in a recent book titled Academically Adrift, that 45 percent of the nation’s undergraduates learn very little in their first two years of college.

After four years of college, 36 percent of students showed no improvement in reasoning or writing skills, according to sociologists Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia. Students majoring in humanities, social sciences, math and natural sciences learned more than students in pre-professional fields such as education, business and social work. In addition, students who took courses that required significant reading and writing were more likely to show learning gains.

Most college students want “a credential attesting to their employability, accompanied by as much fun as possible,” writes George Leef of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.  They didn’t work hard in high school and expect college to be just as easy.

Intellectually vapid courses and programs that will attract customers have proliferated. Professors who would rather devote their time to their own career-advancing research projects often strike an implicit deal with their students: don’t expect much of my time and I’ll keep the course easy and the grades high.

By making it easier for students to borrow money, the federal government is luring “more marginal students into college, further increasing the pressure to lower standards,” Leef adds.

It has been accurately said that college is the new high school; the way we are going, soon it will be the new middle school.

Students aren’t interested in learning, writes Gaye Tuchman, a sociology professor at the University of Connecticut. Nearly all want to know, “Will I be able to get a job?”

Today’s college students average 14 hours a week of study time compared to 24 hours a week for students in the 1960s, writes Philip Babcock, an economics professor at University of California at Santa Barbara.  Thinking requires more effort than most colleges require.

College students cut study time

College students aren’t studying as much they used to, reports the Boston Globe. The average four-year college student studies 14 hours a week, down from 24.4 hours in 1961, estimate Philip Babcock at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and Mindy Marks, at UC-Riverside. The trend isn’t based on the student’s major, gender, race or SAT scores.

“It’s not just limited to bad schools,” Babcock said. “We’re seeing it at liberal arts colleges, doctoral research colleges, masters colleges. Every different type, every different size. It’s just across the spectrum. It’s very robust. This is just a huge change in every category.”

Babcock and Marks think professors are assigning less demanding work because of  “the growing power of students and professors’ unwillingness to challenge them.”

In theory, college students should spend two hours studying for every hour in class. Since 15 credit hours is considered a full load, that would mean 30 hours of studying.

Two thirds of  first-year college students say they studied less than six hours a week as high school seniors, reports Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP), which has tracked declining study time for 20 years.

College students work somewhat harder, but many make it through without much effort.

In one CIRP survey subset last year, analyzing predominantly private institutions considered to be mid-level or high-achieving colleges, some 32 percent of college freshmen somehow managed to study less than six hours a week — not even an hour a day. Seniors studied only slightly more, with nearly 28 percent studying less than six hours a week. And other surveys of today’s students report similarly alarming results. The National Survey of Student Engagement found in 2009 that 62 percent of college students studied 15 hours a week or less — even as they took home primarily As and Bs on their report cards.

In a 2008 survey of  University of California undergraduates, one third of students said they “did not know how to sit down and study.” These are students drawn from the top 12.5 percent in the state, based on grades and test scores.

Some say today’s students can study more efficiently.

“A student doesn’t need to retype a paper three times before handing it in,” said Heather Rowan-Kenyon, an assistant professor of higher education at Boston College. “And a student today can sit on their bed and go to the library, instead of going to the library and going to the card catalog.”

But average study hours fell from 24.4 hours a week to 16.8 between 1961 and 1981, before the Internet was a factor. And the decline in studying isn’t linked to more students holding jobs or more marginal students on campus. It’s everybody.

Professors who demand a lot from students have to work harder themselves — and listen to students’ complaints, say Babcock and Marks.

Letting students rate their professors, a trend that started in the 1960s, encourages professors to go easy on homework in exchange for glowing course evaluations, said Murray Sperber, a visiting education professor at Berkeley.  It’s an unstated “non-aggression pact.”

In Kevin Drum’s comments on Mother Jones, summarized on Atlantic Wire, one person suggests that college students know prospective employers will focus more on extracurriculars and “leadership” than on their grades. Another blames the rise of adjunct instructors, who are very dependent on course evaluations.

A state university professor writes:

Right around the time studying went down, grades went up. From the mid-60’s to the mid-70’s, the average grade went from around a 2.5 to around a 2.9.

Grade inflation is the rational explanation, writes James Bowman in New Criterion. If you can get A’s and B’s by studying 14 hours a week, why work harder?