By Richard Vedder
Data that I have come across in the past few days or months suggest the following:
1) The proportion of college freshmen working at a job while in college is lower today than at any time in the past 30 years (Bureau of Labor Statistics);
2) The amount of time that the typical student spends on academic matters --attending class, studying, writing papers, etc. --is embarrassingly low, under 40 hours a week for a 32 week year (National Survey of Student Engagement or NSSE);
3) The amount of time the typical student spends on entertainment, bar-hopping, watching television, etc., is much higher than for the working adult population (NSSE);
4) Students are borrowing record amounts of money to go to college; the typical student probably has a sizable NEGATIVE net worth --lower wealth than, say, the students of 30 years ago despite an overall substantial rise in national wealth (College Board, other sources).
Put bluntly, students are borrowing heavily to party --at least relative to past generations of students. As academic standards decline with grade inflation and increasing numbers of mediocre students attend college, the costs of college have soared. But instead of working at jobs more to pay their way through school, kids are simply borrowing to cover the rising costs --and a bit more so they can work less at jobs (not to mention in school).
In short, we are spoiling our children and encouraging them onto a path of fiscal irresponsibility. The government student loan program gets a good bit of the blame, as do the colleges for allowing standards to slip, and politicians for ignoring the problem and calling for greater college participation. It is no wonder that I continually get negative relationships between government higher education spending and economic growth ---we are subsidizing an adolescent leisure class more than "investing in human capital."