The College Education: Effort Invested

Many students approach their college education with a whole range of mixed feelings.  There's the excitement of a new level of learning along with more freedom and socializing.  Others see it as one more roadblock until they can finally "do something" with their lives (though, that do something usually is some variation on the "make money; buy things" scheme.

But the American Enterprise Institute recently published a study revealing that while students may be getting excited about college; they aren't necessarily getting prepared for college.  That is, they may have the right levels of intelligence for college, but they are not scheduling significant time for college.

Since the 1960s, there has been a significant drop in studying and work that students put into their education.  What used to be upwards of 25-30 hours a week of work is now drifting down to 15 hours of work for school.  In fact, many students are amazed/disturbed to discover that for college, their proportion of work outside the class to inside the class should be something like 2:1 or 3:1.  Meaning for every 1 hour the student spends in the class, they should be spending 2-3 hours of work outside the class.  If the class meets 3 hours a week; that's 6-9 hours of work...just for 1 class.  Therefore, if you are a full time student (12-16 credits a semester), that should turn into an additional 24-48 hours of school work; that is, you should be working at being a student, full time.

Time and again, students find this outrageous and are not happy with instructors (like myself) who aim for this level of work.  They argue that they have jobs to work; social obligations to make; or even that this class has nothing to do with their lives and therefore, should not have to put so much time and effort into it.   I understand their plight for I too had many of the same demands when I was in college.  But I still put in the work...mostly.

Reconsidering the Study and College

More importantly, the drop indicates several things that students should be keeping in mind as they continue their college education.

1.  If this study is correct; then the implication is that the quality of college is going down.  That is, no study has yielded results (as far as I know) that student intelligence across the board has gone up in the last 50 years (some studies say it has gone down; but I'm inclined to disbelieve those for a variety of reasons:  possibly for another post sometime).  If intelligence isn't going up, but the amount of work the student is doing (and expected to do) is decreasing, then that would mean the overall quality of the education is lacking.

2.  This decrease goes hand-in-hand with the business-approach to school philosophy which views students into consumers and looks to offer them better and better deals.  That is, they lower their demands (price or time investment) to get more customers.  They push students into full time programs that they can do in shorter times; they provide options like summer classes or accelerated classes which any instructor knows, that a decent amount of things must be tossed out the window due to the condensed time.  For instance, how much reading can you genuinely assign for a literature course during a 6 week program and actually expect the students to do?  (After all, students purposely save summer courses for classes they don’t like; so they don’t have to do as much).     But it also gets tricky here.  Because on one level, schools, particular community colleges and state universities should aim to make themselves accessible to as many people as possible through schedules, money, time demands, etc.  But does that mean demanding less work of them because they have full-time lives?  That's a slippery slope to be treading and many schools don't do well with this.  They promise and push students through degrees as fast as possible, therein lowering the students' full quality education and as well as threatening the integrity of their own reputation and college degrees as a whole.

3.  Thus, the proliferation of people with degrees has also resulted in the overall devaluing of the college diploma.  In the 1960s, a college diploma was almost a guarantee of success.  Today, it doesn't guarantee much and often, the pay vs the investment doesn't yield much to be desired.

4.  Students need to be more than just average.  They need to stand out.  They stand out by investing time in their education and doing well in all classes.  Incidentally, this also means that the student gets the most out their education; since after all, they are paying to learn and that requires efforts on both sides of the desk.  Again, student’s don’t often think or reflect on the fact that if they get through a course by the skin of their teeth and are just glad “it’s done!” but have nothing to say for the course except some luke-warm grade; they really did just waste their time and money.

Given the demands that we fill out lives with, it’s undoubtedly hard for students to fully realize how much time they should dedicate to their education.  In this day and age, of instant gratification, a semester seems like forever (nevermind 4 years).  Consistently putting in the time and effort to the full array of courses (even the ones you don’t like) seems awfully draconian.  And yet, one has to contend with what they are looking to get out of their education.  While just being in college opens up students’ opportunities and possibilities, it’s the effort (and the process of understanding how they work and why they work on the subjects that they do), that can make the significant difference. 

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  1. College has become something of a mandatory part of life. Without a college degree, with the way the economy is in this day and age, it is nearly impossible to find a job to sustain an individual’s family, let alone him or herself. However, the quality of college has gone down a great deal. Highschool grads are searching out colleges that are infamous for being ‘party schools’. Some highschoolers are not applying to colleges for the soul purpose of getting a great education: they are applying to schools where they can have a great social life without the burden of too much schoolwork. Those few who actually wish to get a great education are the victims in this situation.

    Most colleges are gearing themselves towards those students who are seeking to socialize, not study. Colleges broadcast the fact that their classes are short, their clubs are plentiful, and some even go as far to announce what ranking they are on the party school top 100. Those hoping to go to college to get a decent education are having to look harder to pick out the few schools who are still dedicated to giving students a higher education. Studying is not something that should be brushed off, although some schools are okay with it. As long as their school is getting good reviews from their students, nothing else seems to matter.

    Kimberly Frost
    Making Monsters MW

  2. I can agree and relate to this completely. Although the amount of work I do has vastly increased since college started, it still isn't as much it should be. I have talked to my parents and they make me feel as though they did 100 times the work in school then I do now. I have also talked to friends at higher end private schools that say they have a ton of work and that is very tough. I personally do not feel overwhelmed all the time. There are times where I have had 2 essays or 2 tests in the same week that need to get done but besides that I can keep up with everything. Should I be spending more time doing reading and studying? Probably, if one night I just feel like stopping then I will put it off to the next day. Not a great strategy but non the less it fits my lethargic lifestyle.

    I will also say that sometimes I put socializing and other "non school related things" before assignments that aren't immediately do. As an athlete I leave every day for golf practice at 2 and sometimes do not get back until 8 or later. This means no dining hall and about a quarter of my day gone. There is also a limit of days/nights available for work. Good luck getting me to stay in on a Friday or Saturday to do homework which leaves Sunday afternoons and then Monday-Thursday after practice to do homework. Without a sport it would be much easier to manage time and get a lot more studying done but for some people (and I'm assuming there are more time consuming sports than golf) there is just not enough time in the day to get everything done without losing either your social life, grades, or sleep. I personally chose to give up sleep on the weekdays and then catch up on weekends. I have classes at 8 every day which usually means less than 8 hours a night. I agree with the above post that some schools are starting to concentrate on the party aspect of their campus. Princeton Review has ratings for schools with the most weed, hard liquor, beer, and overall parties. Obviously these are part of college but shouldn't be a top priority when choosing a school.

    College is what you put into it though. It is an investment for the rest of your life. Good luck finding a well paying job in this economy without at least an associates degree.

    Jake Bailly

  3. College is no longer an optional route after high school. The pursuit of a degree is the norm, which brings up the question of what education really is supposed to be about. There must be a mindset change because college does not guarantee a job or a successful life, and I feel as if we routinely trick ourselves, as students, into thinking that. What college should be for is knowledge; the knowledge of what this world was, what it is, and what it will become. With the experiences and information received, people then decide on what to do with their lives. At the end of this journey, the transition into adulthood, a simple piece of paper with some fancy writing is given to you. It is basically saying: I’m kicking your ass to the curb and this degree only serves as a reminder of what you have learned. There needs to be an end to students just believing that receiving a degree will do them any good in life. Shouldn’t students care more about what they learned in a class rather than the grade? A piece of paper is not the ultimate achievement in education, contrary to popular belief. And this ingrained idea starts in elementary school.

    Looking back on my own experiences with public education, teachers short change students by only focusing on the basic curriculum for tests. Teachers are forced to only care about the test score because that is what determines their own success. This is why the arts are significantly cut back; because the school system ignores any form of art education in standardize tests. Schools are built to program students to only learn from test to test, taking away any form of thinking completely. Organizing students by these standardize test scores by passing them or failing them, and determining which level of math classes they belong to really takes away the point in developing a child. If a student is only valued for their test score that is all they focus on to get by for the next year. Elementary school is just a stage in this process to kick a child out into this world where the only thing they care about is their G.P.A. Any relevance as to why it is important to read Twain, understand Chemistry, or be sufficient in math is only justified by the grade; instead of focusing on the greater picture-- to better society with their vast amount of knowledge. Education needs to start with a new focus—to make people think. Why not raise a child to apply any sort of learning outside of a Scantron test, help them value education rater than view it as something they have to do.

    This refusal to work outside of class and be active learners is because the value of education is not what it should be. Learn with purpose, and that will be the ultimate achievement in academics. As for us, our generation, we should ignore the grade and go to college with an understanding that we can learn something for ourselves, and not for our teacher's pay check. Any college education is valued not for the degree but what is put into the degree. All the hard work and dedication demonstrated by us will determine our success in life, and that is relevant to outside of academia as well.

  4. I’ll be the first to argue that this is a topic where there are holes in the arguments on every side. I certainly respect that a student has there own life and that between class, work, maintaining a social life, and various other obligations, most students already have their hands full, especially if you add other details like raising a family, in the case of returning students. However, working outside of class is an important part of the educational experience at any level, so you should still expect and plan to do plenty of homework and studying. And if your ‘free time’ includes getting drunk or high a few nights a week, you really aren’t in any position to complain.
    On the other hand, I understand that professors are doing their best to prepare students for life after school and are simply trying to reinforce what they are trying to teach to their students. But, these professors need to understand that they are teaching only one of four, five, or even six classes, that a student needs to be focusing on. I have run into more then one professor that seems to operate under the idea that their class is so important that students need to be investing a majority of their time in. If I’m a Journalism major and the class in question is Journalism 101, yeah, that class probably should be consuming the majority of my time. If that class is Political Science for the Non-Political Science Major… no, not so much. I am one of the students that adamantly believe that electives and gen. ed. courses should not consume as much time as major-specific classes.
    There needs to be a balance drawn on both sides. Studying is important and students should certainly have to work a few hours a week for success in their classes, but expecting students to dedicate more then ten hours a week is absurd. Likewise, free time is an important part of a working life, too, if only for the fact that it allows people to unwind after a long day. However, free time should not be confused with laziness or slacking off. If you can find that balance between the two, both parts of your life should be more then satisfied.


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