8 Theories on Why College Kids Are Studying Less

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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 suggest explanations.

  • 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."
  • More 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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