Tuesday, January 25, 2011


A new study reports a dramatic decline in study time among college students.

According to authors Philip Babcock and Mindy Marks, college students in 1961 devoted 40 hours a week to study, as opposed to just 27 hours in 2004. And yes, this applies to everyone: "the declines occurred at 4-year colleges of every type, size, degree structure, and level of selectivity."

The article is written for an economics article, so the authors take a "garbage in, garbage out" approach. The concern is that, provided investment in study yields positive results -- which it likely does -- declines in study time will result in a batch of graduates that are unprepared for a competitive job market and uneducated, despite the degrees.

Babcock and Marks provided several reasons for this decline, but my favorite is the following:
Institutional standards may have evolved to meet an evolving market for college students.
In other words, colleges make more money if they admit more students, so they lower their standards to increase the customer pool. What's strange about this whole thing is that the key to a university's success is the devaluing of its own product. Anyone smell another remake of The Producers?

I, for one, am not buying into this game. Earlier this week I actually had a student remind me that I "don't teach at Yale." So I should expect less of you as a student? I don't think so. Expect more from yourself...that or drop out.

But they can't quit. They're trapped. Soon McDonald's will require a college degree from its employees. Societally, in an effort to "leave no child behind," we've let every child down. A Bachelor's degree is the equivalent of a high school diploma. It is expected and valueless, at least for my generation. What pride is there in achieving what so many others achieve?

Our real problem is that too many people attend college. Yeah, I said it, and I'll say it again: too many people attend college.

Let me be clear: I'm not blaming the students. What choice do they have? Some have no interest in the careers a college degree ideally affords, but jobs that don't truly require higher education for some reason require a degree. Other individuals, to be perfectly honest, lack the temperament or intelligence to benefit from college. But again, to get a moderately decent job, a college degree is required.

In my eyes, this system creates two major problems. First, is forces individuals who have no interest in being in the university system to go to college. Second, it devalues the degree students eventually earn because it's not that damn difficult to get one. Does a Bachelor's degree really separate you from the pack anymore? I don't think so...at least not like it once did.

I think a return to a trade-school focus is in order. Let's educate people to do what they really want to do. If a nine-to-five is your only end goal, then train for that. If your interested in something more thought-provoking and mentally challenging, then train for that.

But the incessant dumbing down of curriculum and the perpetually lowering bar are not effective ways to mine human capital or benefit students.

1 comment:

  1. good points here Nick. The decrease in state/federal funding could be to blame for the increased commoditization of students...

    other things that come to mind include the recent NYT study that found that studying for a test is actually more effective than studying material http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/21/science/21memory.html

    Also-- I liked your comment about returning to trade-school focus and allowing students to "train" instead of just study. Training seems more practical and pragmatic, and the tough recession economy seems to inspire a return to the pragmatic point of view that was once prevalent in certain professions such as journalism . However, the history of journalism education shows that one of the biggest battles was to convince people that journalism wasn't a trade, but a profession, and so the training aspects slowly lost ground to a more well-rounded liberal education, and this theme of "professionalization" is actually one of the biggest hurdles to returning to a more pragmatic educational approach. Keep up the good bloggin dude...and I'll leave you with a nice quote from Mr. Dewey from my thesis about the transformation of the J-School:

    In November of 1894, while at the newly opened University of Chicago, the great educational reformer John Dewey wrote a letter to his first wife Alice Chipman where he describes all of the essential elements in his philosophy of the school:

    "There is an image of a school growing up in my mind all the time; a school where some actual & literal constructive activity shall be the centre & source of the whole thing, & from which the work should be always growing out in two directions – one the social bearings of that constructive industry, the other the contact with nature which supplies it with its materials."