Monday, August 30, 2010

Study Reports that College Students are Studying Less

Here's a story from the Boston Globe, reporting on a forthcoming article in the Review of Economics and Statistics that college students study less today than they did in previous decades.

The Boston Globe article discusses several theories for why this might have happened.

First, the authors of the study itself suggest that teaching evaluations might have caused this. I.e., less demanding faculty receive higher evaluation scores from students. To the extent that pay raises and promotions are based, in part at least, on student evaluations, then they provide incentives to faculty to reduce demands on students. Or it could just be that faculty like to be liked, and so court higher evaluations by reducing demands on students.

A second theory is that students are busier today than they were in past decades, mainly because more students work during college in order to pay for higher tuition and fees.

A third theory is that access to computers decreases time that students would count as studying, but really is just time wasted finding a book in the library.

One theory discussed only in passing in the article is one that seems plausible to me: The greatest decline in study time came between 1960 and 1980. During this period there was a huge increase in the number of students going to college. But the increased enrollment came at a cost: the marginal student was less prepared for college than previously. Increased retention came along with increased enrollments, and than meant that course requirements needed to be lowered for all students to avoid flunking out the less prepared marginal student.

That said, I'm not entirely convinced that the article gets it right. The Globe also reports that high school seniors have been studying a lot less than previously. While my kids are not yet in high school, my impression so far -- and from other parents -- is that they are studying a lot more than I did at their age. To be sure, a lot of the studying, in my opinion, is pointless busy work. Nevertheless, they are in the habit of studying several hours every night, and quite a few hours on the weekends.


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