Saturday, February 09, 2008

Party Time At American Universities!!!!

By Richard Vedder

Fellow data freak Tom Mortensen reports some fascinating data from the American Time Use Survey from the respected U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that broadly confirms the findings of the National Survey of Student Engagement with respect to the question: what do college students do with their time?

While the BLS survey looks only at weekday time use --ignoring the 48 hours that is Saturday and Sunday --the results confirm the notion that American college kids spend more time partying than working. Looking at full-time college students from the ages of 18 to 24 --the core of the college student population --we learn that the average student spends less than three hours a day on "education" --attending classes and studying --but more than 50 percent more than that on "leisure and sports." Counting time spent "working," the typical student spends 5.5 hours a day in productive activities --studying, working, or going to class. That is 27.5 hours a week. Adding in another 10 hours on the weekend (which probably is generous), you have an average of 37.5 hours per week. That is remarkably consistent with the NESSIE findings and less than what adults in manufacturing work. These students should be working 45-50 hours a week or more as they transition from children to adults.

There are variations, of course. Asian students spend about 50 percent more time on academic activities than whites. Blacks and Hispanics, who on average have economic and educational deficiencies to overcome -- spend less time on education than whites or the overall average. Older students (e.g., college seniors) spend more time on these activities than younger ones (e.g., 18 and 19 year old students, who spend a paltry two hours a day on educational pursuits). Kids from poorer families, however, in general work more hours on educational pursuits than kids from more affluent families. However, and this is something my colleague Charlene Kalenkowski has told me before ---kids from lower income families actually work FEWER hours a week at income generating activities than those from more affluent families.

Some conclusions:

1) The notion that colleges are recreational facilities/country clubs for the relatively affluent is supported by the data; the notion that higher education spending is a major investment in the creation of human capital is not well supported by the data. Question, then: why do we subsidize the underutilization of the talents of kids who are on average pretty bright but comparatively unchallenged (lazy?)

2) Why is the professoriate, so worried about its economic status, etc., and not working its students harder?

3)The notion that low income families are denied access to college for economic reasons is not supported by the fact that these individuals are not working much to overcome the cost of college --another impact of student loan programs? Bob Zemsky has been saying something like this for years, and I think he is right.

4) Is the low educational effort by minorities an adverse consequence of affirmative action policies --if you are black or Hispanic, you can work less because you have a favored status?

The biggest public policy issue, I repeat, is why do we heavily subsidize our best and brightest young Americans working so little, and partying so much?


Cowboy said...

It would appear that my daughter who is in high school spends more time in classes and sudying than most college students.

I believe the average of 37.5 hours/week is overly optimistic.

Had I spent the same amount of time going to classes and studying each week as I spent working each week after I graduated, I'm pretty sure I would have graduated from college with a 3.8 gpa or better.

Should professors make classes harder, or assign more work? I believe so. But the student has a responsibility to the very best they can to "shoot for the stars", or the choice to not give a darn.

Assuming a 50% attrition rate, I do not believe the university administration is going to be sending out a memo requiring professors to make classes harder any time soon. However, when I was in college there were professors who really challenged students. And then there were some that lectured about how they talked to cows - and that's no bull.

sciencedoc said...

I can't speak about all college students but I will say that this just doesn't sound like an accurate description of the students I see majoring in physical sciences where I work. I asked several about this and they just scoffed. Admittedly, these were students who just happened to be attending my office hours, but I look at the others, and this just doesn't sound right.

I've looked at some of the BLS data including on science and engineering students. I just don't see how they could be accurate. It's not possible to get through the coursework in the amount of time ascribed to out-of-class preparation. Admittedly the BLS data don't include weekends. Maybe they do most of their studying on weekends. But the overall picture is not as portrayed here.