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Higher Education Watch
College Students Are Studying Less Than You Think

Work hard, play hard or play hard, shirk hard? A new Heritage Foundation report finds that college students spend fewer hours on their schoolwork than high school students, and significantly fewer than most full-time employees in the labor force:

Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s American Time Use Survey from 2003–2014, during the academic year, the average full-time college student spent only 2.76 hours per day on all education-related activities, including 1.18 hours in class and 1.53 hours of research and homework, for a total of 19.3 hours per week.

Full-time high school students, in comparison, spent 4.32 hours per day on all education-related activities, including 3.42 hours in class and 0.80 hours of research and homework, for a total of 30.2 hours per week. Thus, full-time college students spend 10.9 fewer hours per week on educational activities than full-time high school students. […]

The average full-time employee works 41.7 hours per week. To match that, the typical college student would need 22.4 work hours per week, in addition to the 19.3 educational hours.

Other studies have confirmed that college students at public and private universities alike are studying almost 40 percent less today than they did fifty years ago. This may reflect the fact that college—at least for some students—functions more and more as a signaling device for employers and a networking tool for the middle and upper classes rather than as a rigorous educational program. Why spend all your time perfecting your Shakespeare essay when you could be making connections that could help enhance your career in the future? After all, most employers only want to see that you have a degree—and its virtually impossible to flunk out, given the pace of grade inflation.

Heritage argues that the relatively modest amount of time people spend studying raises questions about the value of subsidized student loan programs. It could even be that decreasing students’ financial stake in their education (and decreasing colleges’ financial stake in their success) could encourage more young people to take a more leisurely course of study and take longer to graduate.

One way to help address this problem, as we have suggested before, is to implement a more rigorous testing system for college students. A standardized assessment for graduates in various fields would help parents, policymakers, and taxpayers know whether American higher education is really imparting a majority of students with valuable knowledge and skills, or whether the four-year BA is becoming a kind of culturally-encouraged rite of passage increasingly bereft of real educational value.

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  • seattleoutcast

    Speaking with recent college grads on anything important (civics, principles of science, Western history, philosophy and religion), I find this to be completely true.

  • Beauceron

    That is pretty much what I think.
    I think most college has more to do with learning social justice bulls**t than learning anything worthwhile.

  • Fat_Man

    This is the concequence of the system of College Finance. The students are the cash cows for the system. The colleges know that there is no such thing as an unhappy customer. They also know that there is a limited number of students who can do rigorus work, because of native ability, and the generally dismal state of American secondary schools.

    The Colleges must, in order to keep their business model upright and moving, retain a large fraction of the student body that would have been flunked out early in the 20th Century.

    At the same time, faculty has no incentive to teach difficult courses. They are rewarded for research and outside consulting, The only thing they get out of teaching is the possibility of bad reviews on the colleges evaluation system. They know that nothing will kill their reviews faster than large quantites of home work or reading or giving grades less than B.

    Students being callow and ignorant, have the incentives and reactions that any bunch of 18-22 year olds who do not have to support themselves or famileis. What is important to them is the “college experience”, i.e. binge drinking and fornicating. Studying harshes their mellow. Going to class is boring, inconvenient, and, if you have a hangover, painful. As the main post notes, the students are there to get their tickets punched.

    The colleges are greedy, the faculty are resentful, and the students are drunken louts. But, Federal dollars keep flowing and that is all that is important.

    What can stop this catastrophe? The Federal government can run out of money because the health care system, which voters need more than they need colleges, will eat the budget. That has already happened to state higher ed budgets. The Feds might have to start paying interest on the National debt which can cause an exponential fiscal blow up. Employers might stop hiring graduates who do not have degrees that demonstrate their brains work and their livers are undamaged, like chemical engineering. Colleges might become so immured in political correctness that parents refuse to pay.

    • GS

      We need to toss out the librul idukashian framework as a criminal waste it is, and put in its place a strictly vocational [like that same chemical engineering you mentioned] system.

  • Andrew Allison

    Exhibit A: “Miss Sharon Jones?” Though the actual title for the soul singer’s soul-bearing docu-portrait . . .
    ( Imagine how many illiterate college graduates read this before it was published, let alone since.

  • PennsylvaniaPry

    If you cannot read and write Latin before you enter college, you aren’t college material. Higher education in the U.S. is a sad joke. All of it.

    • GS

      Simii simiis curant, PennsylvaniaPry.

      • f1b0nacc1

        The French writer Montaigne once said that if your child is insufficiently promising by age 12 you should either “drown them or apprentice them to a baker”…
        You two would get along well….(grin)

        • FriendlyGoat

          Presumably Montaigne’s France did not consider drowning one’s unpromising 12-year-old to fall under a murder statute.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Pity your career as a baker didn’t work out… Were your parents disappointed?

          • FriendlyGoat

            Accounting. (I always thought canned biscuits, boxed cookie mix and store-brand sliced bread were completely adequate. A business degree helped me know that setting out to compete in a commodity business was uphill.)

          • Jim__L

            Nope, but in America you’re fine if you get in under the wire 12 years previously.

        • GS

          Birch is the Tree of Education.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Bravo! Thank you for seeing the humor as it was intended…

          • GS

            You are welcome. By the way, assuming the absence of the language barrier, any thinking person would have LOVED to get along well with Michel de Montaigne: judging by his writings, he must have been an extremely interesting interlocutor, even if a tad repetitive.

      • PennsylvaniaPry


        • GS

          “Vero” would be better stylistically. But it matters not. What they learn there is drunkenness, fornication, and ignorance. In addition, some of them also learn how to swear, and sometimes even in more than one language. Which gives us some hope.

  • DirtyJobsGuy

    All college programs should be demanding, especially the liberal arts. Unfortunately the US is following the European path, with easy university programs without the demanding secondary school programs they use. This was not the case in the 1940s and 1950s, Then high school was more demanding and fewer people went to college. Since employers only look at the certificate itself in most cases, why work harder. Restoring the old two-year junior college program as a rigourous first two years of a BA/BS is the first step. In places like Ireland you can go to a 4-6 year program right out of secondary/1-2 years of college for medical school. A huge cost savings and no real change in educational content.

  • Loader2000

    I studied a great deal my 2nd and 3rd years of college, usually starting at 8:00 in the morning with classes and finishing homework around 7:00 PM. However, my 1st, 4th and 5th years were relatively easy compared. It may have been the 200 and 300 level weed-out classes.

  • FriendlyGoat

    “Why spend all your time perfecting your Shakespeare essay when you could be making connections that could help enhance your career in the future?
    That’s REALLY a good question that deserves answers from Mark Cuban and Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerburg types of people. Most people today who are making real money and/or changing industries at the leading edge are not bogging down too far or too long in Shakespeare.
    Nothing against the minds capable of absorbing capital-L Literature, but you’ve got to admit, concentrations in it result in people who are looking for a shrinking number of jobs to teach it, no?

    • Josephbleau

      Nothing has enriched my life more than an education in classical to Elizabethan literature, mostly by some remarkable high school teachers. If I sacrificed “Real Money” then I am better for it. I graduated in 3.5 years in an engineering BS program and I studied on week ends, more the same for a math MS pity the fool that doesn’t take advantage of drugs and sex.

      • FriendlyGoat

        I’m not arguing for drugs and sex, nor am I arguing against good high school teachers. In today’s college education environment, with its costs, I would argue against very much required Shakespeare in either your engineering and math or my accounting.
        I only brought this up because of the “odd” sentence in the article which I quoted.

  • Jim__L


    “Why spend all your time perfecting your Shakespeare essay when you could
    be making connections that could help enhance your career in the

    Should be:

    “Why spend all your time perfecting your Shakespeare essay when you could
    be screwing, binge drinking, and taking drugs (all supported by government
    loans), when all you have to do to get A’s is mouth Liberal platitudes?”

  • Daniel Nylen

    It would be very hard to create any type of a testing system in college. The SC has ruled that testing can’t have any disparate impact in hiring decisions. Municipalities spend millions of $ and years with studies and experts to try to create exams for promotions and still we end up in court for years…. Get rid of the Griggs decision and let employers give any tests they wanted and the problem would disappear– the government could even go back to the old civil service exams.

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