Friday, August 24, 2007

Do College Kids Study? A Student's Perspective

By Matthew Denhart

Postsecondary Opportunity reported an interesting study, conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census Bureau, in their July issue on time use of college students. The results are quite discouraging, but based on my own understanding of the average college student, probably quite accurate.

Students devote only 3.1 hours to “educational activities” on the average weekday. Furthermore, the peak time for this educational activity is between the hours of 9:00 AM and 12:00 PM, not coincidentally when most classes are in session. This suggests that much of those 3.1 hours could be class time and actual out of class preparation is miniscule if existent at all. To think that our students—supported by taxpayers’ dollars—only spend an eighth of the school day indeed doing school work is frightening and begs the question “why?”

The respected National Survey on Student Engagement (NSSE) suggests that many students, especially freshmen, report not feeling a great deal of academic challenge. Having recently completed my first year at Ohio University I would tend to agree. Many first-year classes have over 100 students and universities assign graduate students or junior faculty to teach them. The best, most interesting and experienced senior faculty often teach only upper-level courses. Freshmen who are the most likely to transfer or drop-out are in most need of engaging professors. Furthermore, the current method of student course evaluations weighs heavily on grades. This clearly encourages grade inflation, and reduces academic challenge.

While many blame universities for unchallenging academics, graduation rates are nothing short of embarrassing. If college is so easy, and requires only 3 hours of work a day, why is it that on average more than half of students fail to graduate within six years? It seems to me that the greatest problem is student engagement and interest in one’s own learning.

The solution to this problem, and many others, is for our universities and professors to simply challenge students, and encourage them to take interest in their studies. This does not necessarily mean they must assign more homework, papers or write unusually difficult exams. As NSSE suggests, professors need to do much more to encourage meaningful thought, not just simple memorization. Even if actually thinking is a bit more difficult, we students certainly appreciate and enjoy such classes. Evidence is as close as the infamous “rate my professor” website. In doing a quick search of an economics class taught by an energetic and thoughtful professor, student comments read: “Difficult class, but worth every second. A ‘Must Take,’” and referring to the instructor: “He grades pretty tough and an A is very hard to get. I love him!!!” These comments hardly suggest that we students are opposed to doing meaningful studying.

Engagement in studies will not only help to limit the infamous “party scene,” but would also improve retention and graduation rates. Universities need to be doing much more to encourage this. Forcing senior faculty to actually teach lower level classes is a good start. Evidenced by such low levels of study time, I think it’s safe to send this message to our universities and professors: Please…challenge us!

Matthew Denhart is a "Whiz Kid" (student assistant) at CCAP and a sophomore at Ohio University, where he majors in political science.


F said...

This is particularly disturbing when you figure that a 15 hr course load usually 12.5hrs of lecture, assuming no lab classes (a lecture hour is often 10 minutes short, and 2-3 hrs of lab are usually 1 credit). So assuming no labs, thats 0.6 hrs of studying a day outside of class.

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