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Three Pie Charts That Prove You Shouldn't Slack Off in College
September 3, 2014 5:54 PM   Subscribe

Students who did as little as possible during college continued to drift after graduation

Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates, by sociologists Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia, is the follow-up to their book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, published in 2010. For Academically Adrift, Arum and Roksa surveyed 1,600 students over the course of their college years. The new book checks in with the almost 1,000 students they were able to find two years later, in 2011.
posted by Nevin (60 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Bit of a buried lede here:

In fairness to the students and their almae matres, the authors took their snapshot at a particularly bad time for new grads. The unemployment rate for all 20- to 24-year-olds, regardless of education, was 15.1 percent in June 2009 and was still high, at 14.3 percent, around the time the survey was conducted two years later.

There's also the fact that there are just plain more of us with college degrees competing for jobs with similar qualifications. Combined with the fact that the data doesn't compare the habits of today's college students to the habits of college students 10 or 20 years ago, well, I hate to do the whole 'dismiss the FPP link in the first comment' thing, but...
posted by capricorn at 6:01 PM on September 3 [14 favorites]


The first pie chart shows that college students spent almost three-quarters of their time sleeping or socializing. Emerging into one of the worst job markets of the postwar period hit them like a bucket of ice water.

There's an implicit assumption that if only these kids had spent more time studying, dammit, they'd have jobs. So much career success is not based on learning or on merit (whatever that means), but on the ability to socialize, network, and play social games. The slacking off builds the skills and networks that will eventually employ and sustain these kids.
posted by factory123 at 6:07 PM on September 3 [28 favorites]


Btw, the third link is to an excellent Louis Menand piece that questions the assumptions of the researchers in this post.
posted by Nevin at 6:08 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


It's worth noting that the writer appears to consider people "adrift" if they are not making more than $40,000 a year within two years of graduation. I broke $40,000 about twelve years after graduation and - with the various wage freezes since at work - don't make much more than that now, several years on. I consider myself incredibly lucky, since I make more than almost all my peers - who all have degrees, some advanced. I have more degrees than you can shake a stick at, myself. I tend not to think of myself as "adrift".
posted by Frowner at 6:10 PM on September 3 [20 favorites]


And one headline that proves you slept through research methods.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:10 PM on September 3 [9 favorites]


Yeah, I personally flamed out of college and took ten years to get my BA, and know others who took the longer path, and most of us are doing all right, plus we had time for crazy adventures.
posted by vrakatar at 6:19 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


So much career success is not based on learning or on merit (whatever that means), but on the ability to socialize, network, and play social games.

I was totally expecting this to be a study that showed how badly I fucked up by being a commuter student who kept her nose to the grindstone rather than participating in on-campus activities and spending time with my fellow students.

The honest truth is that I missed out on a lot of learning by skipping those things. And probably some future jobs, too.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 6:23 PM on September 3 [9 favorites]


What if we start slacking after college? Like, say, graduate school, hypothetically speaking, of course.
posted by mollweide at 6:25 PM on September 3 [16 favorites]


$40,000 within two years of graduation? Good lord. I don't think I know a single B.A. who isn't "adrift" by those standards nowadays.
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:26 PM on September 3 [9 favorites]


I remember being in college, and seeing (with disapproving sigh) lots of people around me who's main focus was having a great time and taking the easy road (this was...ugh....nearly 20 years ago).

Case in point, one of my roommates, who in the summer before his senior year of his psychology degree, realized that he should probably do something after he graduated, and tried to find an internship. In May.

At that time, you could still do this and end up in a job while you got your life together and figured out which way was up in the world (he ended up in...gulp...HR). However, bigger doors were open to those of us who differentiated ourselves and were goal oriented.

I don't feel that 'kids today' are any different, there are just potentially greater consequences for those that drift through college. One of the life skills that should be taught to everyone is strategic planning. Have an ambition, set goals that get you there, and find actions that help you achieve your goals, and be flexible along the way. This gets you very far in college, life, jobs, etc.
posted by grajohnt at 6:29 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


grajohnt: "One of the life skills that should be taught to everyone is strategic planning. "

So like that 4 year degree plan they make you fill out in freshman seminar? The thing you want to teach is not how to plan, but wanting to in the first place.
posted by pwnguin at 6:37 PM on September 3 [3 favorites]


I worked super hard, graduated summa cum laude (and even know what summa cum laude means literally), and I work part-time for less than 20k per year.

I should have worked less hard at academics, and actually done some internships and job training instead. Good grades have not done me any good in looking for jobs, though my masters impressed the manager of the coffee shop I applied to.
posted by jb at 6:50 PM on September 3 [13 favorites]


There's a big difference between a strategic plan to get where you want to go and filling out a (mostly pre-determined) degree plan, but point taken on wanting to. You can't teach ambition, but you can sure show people how to turn an ambition into purposeful actions.
posted by grajohnt at 6:54 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


students spent almost three-quarters of their time sleeping or socializing

Or, in other words, they worked slightly less than a normal work week.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:02 PM on September 3 [15 favorites]


Or, in other words, they worked slightly less than a normal work week.

Only 44 hours a week attending class, studying and working, sayeth the pie chart and three seconds of math. Are we supposed to find this shocking?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:34 PM on September 3


Students who did as little as possible during college continued to drift after graduation

As soon as I saw this headline, I expected to see some sort of operationalization of work, likewise for "drift[ing]", and a scatterplot showing the relationship between the two. Or maybe bar graphs comparing the top and bottom halves- really any display comparing two variables would do.
posted by Jpfed at 7:38 PM on September 3 [4 favorites]


Look, maybe if they had spent more time studying in college, they would have provided a graphic that compares two variables.

And when I say that, I genuinely mean "maybe" because I have no way to tell if one correlates with the other.
posted by RobotHero at 7:43 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


It's young people's fault, stupid.
posted by entropone at 7:49 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


I accidentally read the supporting articles prior to the primary one--that "New Yorker" guy is a good writer. I like a nice, crisp style in my long-form journalism.

I would not say that salary money is a good indicator of education success, like the flip "Business Week" guy says. That is irrelevant. Can graduates think? No, especially if they were slackers in college.

I trained college graduates at my corporate technical writing gig. They selected the cream of the applicants, perhaps one-in-a-hundred made it to me.

Ninety-percent of them sucked at typing and language, even after they'd advertised themselves as "TYPES 90 WPM, JOURNALISM MAJOR EXPERT WRITER." ...this one guy was the worst. Total bum. He'd do like forty-five minutes of work in ten hours and made a big scene each day about working overtime to get his shit finished. "Oh, so oppressed and overworked!"

He'd mentioned at one point he took literally sixty-hours of ultimate Frisbee while getting his four-year at U of Oregon.
posted by obsolutely at 8:05 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


I slacked off all through uni, and dropped out.

Today, I earn a salary that's comfortably in the six figures. I turn up when I want, leave when I want, take holidays when I want, and sit here posting on MeFi when I want. I have a masters now (almost two), but I was earning six figures before I had any qualifications to do anything.

Before anybody jumps on me as an outlier, that's precisely my point. I'm here through a little bit of aptitude and a whole lotta luck. A lotta lotta luck. Actually, I was born with most of that aptitude (not to mention male and white-skinned and English-speaking and mostly middle-class), so chalk that all of that up to luck as well.

To paraphrase Mister Glass, if I'm here - all benefits, all luck, little to no effort - there must be people at the other end of the scale who work their fucking arses off and have nothing to show for it.

I think too many people view the world as a nice x=y slope - mostly, you get out what you put in. Except that line is really more like a bowl of spaghetti dumped on four quadrants. There are people who do everything and get nothing. There are people who do nothing and get everything.

There are enough people in the other two quadrants - do nothing and get nothing, do something and get something - for many folks to think there's somehow a causative relationship. Except that's mostly bullshit. For most people, you get what you were born with, plus or minus dumbarsed luck. And for every homeless street kid who is now a Wall Street banker, there are a million homeless street kids who are now homeless adults.

And for every sociologist who graduated in the boom years of the 80s, toddled off to get a masters from Harvard in the late 80s, got tenure, and figures it must be because they're just plain awesome (not born awesome, self-made awesome, because you could go to Harvard if you just worked hard enough, here's a fucking anecdote), there's a million kids doing the best they can - with what they were born with, minus a lot of bad luck for getting a post-GFC shit sandwich as a graduation gift. In Australia, they're staring down the barrel of a $600K+ mortgage, if they buy right now - just in time for us to get our own subprime crisis and lose it all.

All of which they could have avoided if they'd just worked harder at uni, so they could invite a time machine and a gene-altering laser and get born male, white, rich and earlier.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:12 PM on September 3 [42 favorites]


The reason I succeed at my career is because I am lazy as fuck.

Do you know how hard it is being poor ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:16 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


Young folks just don't work like they used to. Literally, they don't work like they used to because there are no jobs.
posted by dephlogisticated at 8:26 PM on September 3 [13 favorites]


I dropped out of journalism school 10 years ago and blundered my way into an engineering job and am working on a company-paid engineering degree. I'd probably be much worse off if I'd followed my original plan. I guess I shouldn't recommend screwing around and seeing where life takes you, but it's worked out pretty well for me so far.

That said, I'd be a fool if I believed it happened due to a meritocracy. Right place, right time is just as important as hard work.
posted by TrialByMedia at 8:26 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


I finished second in my class 20 years ago and I am still drifting. I've tried counter steering but there is still no traction and this corner is lasting forever. My whole life is flashing through my mind at the speed of about 1 year per year.

If I could go back I'd get straight Bs and work on having more friends.
posted by srboisvert at 8:35 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


Mr. Braddock: Ben, what are you doing?
Benjamin: Well, I would say that I'm just drifting. Here in the pool.
Mr. Braddock: Why?
Benjamin: Well, it's very comfortable just to drift here.
Mr. Braddock: Have you thought about graduate school?
Benjamin: No.
Mr. Braddock: Would you mind telling me then what those four years of college were for? What was the point of all that hard work?
Benjamin: You got me.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:35 PM on September 3 [4 favorites]


The article has a bit of a moralistic tone, but its underlying claims seem sound? Those who put in the work and jump through the hoops in university continue to put in the work and jump through the hoops after graduation, and that an economic depression exacerbates the lot of those who won't or can't?
posted by sid at 9:19 PM on September 3


Those who put in the work and jump through the hoops in university continue to put in the work and jump through the hoops after graduation, and that an economic depression exacerbates the lot of those who won't or can't?

Show me that people who fucked around at an Ivy league school ended up in the same boat as people who fucked around at community college and I might consider that fucking around at uni causes poor employment / life outcomes. Until then, it's 'college gives people who probably weren't going to make it anyway something to do between high school and not making it, and effort doesn't factor into it for most of them.'

An economic depression exacerbates the lot of poor people, makes middle class people poor, and concentrates wealth in the hands of the rich. The first group of people don't get the same opportunities to 'put in the work and jump through the hoops' in the first place. The second lot just get a job at Dad's firm, or one of Dad's good friends' firms, or go on to postgrad (no scholarship required), or have a gap year or three. Networks directly linked to the circumtances of their birth, not effort, accounts for their soft landings in hard times.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:45 PM on September 3 [5 favorites]


The premise of the business week article, and the new yorker article to a much greater extent; are completely compromised by the glaring confounding variable of socioeconomic class and circumstances of birth.

The New Yorker article directly discusses this, then somehow, inexplicably, ineffably glosses over it:

College is, essentially, a four-year intelligence test. Students have to demonstrate intellectual ability over time and across a range of subjects. If they’re sloppy or inflexible or obnoxious—no matter how smart they might be in the I.Q. sense—those negatives will get picked up in their grades. As an added service, college also sorts people according to aptitude. It separates the math types from the poetry types. At the end of the process, graduates get a score, the G.P.A., that professional schools and employers can trust as a measure of intellectual capacity and productive potential. It’s important, therefore, that everyone is taking more or less the same test.


People with stability in their lives who were born into a certain strata know foremost that they are expected to finish college, and more importantly, are given both direct and indirect assistance regarding the sorts of signalling behavior necessary to avoid the undying shame of interning at dad's corporation.

The lesser well off, without connections or education in the unwritten curriculum of university, are much more likely to think to themselves that an unpaid internship is an absolutely terrible idea, on merit. Or they are simply unable to afford the luxury of working erratic hours with unreasonable people for free. A university education, for the majority of the existence of higher education, has always had all the meritocracy of multi-level marketing.

I was recently poring over some testing data at my job and entirely tangential to the task at hand; found to my relief that even in the traditional hard sciences, the disparity in knowledge between the men and women was very narrow in younger age groups. This momentary glow was completely destroyed by the certainty of the realization that the proportion of age, gender, education level, and ethnicity that performed in the bottom quartile was within a few percentage points of the respective poverty levels for each of those variables.

In conclusion, blaming the victim for the crime is still very much in vogue, and never more fashionable than when it is written up in the New Yorker in the guise of self-congratulatory science.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 11:14 PM on September 3 [8 favorites]


I'm a little suspicious of anyone who thinks educating harder is the answer to endemic underemployment. The recently graduated generation is probably the most educated generation in history, and they also have less real income and wealth than recent previous ones. Most of the people complaining about modern kids are from generations where a high school graduate could afford more on their paycheck than a modern person with a graduate degree that isn't in engineering.

Plus, having a better education is primarily a competitive advantage. It doesn't make any sense to push for everyone to do it, unless there aren't enough educated people for certain critical positions in society. However, mostly there are too many people for these jobs now, not too few. If everyone has shinier degrees all it does is make employers raise the bar a little bit higher.

Besides, thoughts like this always seem to go along with the implicit assumption that people who aren't high achievers deserve to be thrown to the dogs. Society is always going to have B-students and they need to be able to get real jobs that have benefits and pay enough to live on.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:18 PM on September 3 [17 favorites]


Combined with the fact that the data doesn't compare the habits of today's college students to the habits of college students 10 or 20 years ago, well, I hate to do the whole 'dismiss the FPP link in the first comment' thing, but...

Actually, researchers have been looking at study time for a while. It's been several years since I've looked at it but my recollection is as follows: through the late '60s or thereabouts, average study effort was pretty high, like ~15 hours per week. (As noted above, combine this with reasonable amounts of class time and paying work, and you are slightly north of a 40-hour work week.)

Study effort then declined sharply, reaching an average in the low-single-digit hours per week in the early 2000's. (Grades of course were increasing sharply over the same period.)

I don't have any of these figures to hand and I may be misremembering; perhaps grievously misremembering! But, if not, then the article seems to show that study effort has in fact increased a lot in recent years -- the pie chart seems to show ~12 hours / week of study time.

I suspect I am transmuting some numbers here.

YEAH ACTUALLY on googling it looks like I got the ranges wrong.

This story says that students have declined from ~24 hrs / week studying to about ~12 hrs / week. So the times reported in the FPP are roughly in line with that.

Ahem. Way past my bedtime. But I learned something! Okay. Bye now.
posted by grobstein at 11:24 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


Way past my bedtime.

Bedtime? Sleeping? I bet you're one of those people who wasted a third of their college years sleeping.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:10 AM on September 4 [6 favorites]


There's no data (not just "no properly controlled data", but "no data"!) comparing "slacker" to "non-slacker" groups in the linked Bloomberg article, or in the Chronicle of Higher Education article it links. Is there even any in the books themselves? At first glance it looked like a few commenters here were trying to refute data with just-so stories, but I apologize for the misapprehension; refuting just-so stories with just-so stories is just fine!

I'm going to blame the decline in Spirograph.
posted by roystgnr at 4:08 AM on September 4 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I started drifting after college.

I take those street curves fast and smooooooth.
posted by Katemonkey at 4:18 AM on September 4


I like how the students are criticized in the article partially for spending time sleeping. 28% of the week spent sleeping, that's nearly 7 hours a day! Only 44 hours a week spent attending class, studying or working and yet for some reason they can't function without sleep.
posted by burnmp3s at 4:19 AM on September 4 [4 favorites]


So I went to college and then, during my "adrift" period, worked as an adjunct instructor. The thing that strikes me about these lazy kids! articles is their sheer idealism and regard for the project of higher education; they buy into the myth that colleges sell of themselves as gatekeepers of intelligence and education. Studying only 44 hours a week? How could they, the lazy bums!

Well, I was already pretty well read by the time I got to college, and I learned three lessons early on that caused me to be "lazier" than I might have been:
  1. The reading assignments are completely unrealistic. I attended my first class sessions on a Tuesday, where I received the syllabuses for two courses, a literature survey and a history survey. The first assignment for the literature class was the entirety of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," a 2500 line poem, in Middle English, which I'd never studied. The first assignment for the history course was about 70 pages of small-print, large-page textbook. Not counting the introduction and preface. Even if I read this volume of information over Tuesday and Wednesday nights, what would I retain?
  2. Professors are arrogant and self-centered. On my first day of class, I went from the English history class to a seminar class directly afterward. I had never been to the building and it took me a bit to find the classroom. I was about two minutes late—the class started at 3:00 and I was there at 3:02. The professor proceeded to tell me that he was "disgusted" that I would "disrespect him and the class" by coming in late on the first day. I wordlessly turned around and went and dropped the class. (The especial irony here is that the course in question was a first year seminar, intended to be "great educational opportunities" for freshmen. Ha.)
  3. Professors are largely bad at teaching. In my first semester, after I dropped the seminar, I had mostly classes that I was already familiar with (English, History, French). The one class I didn't know anything about, Linguistics, was "taught" by the worst professor I ever had. It was a large lecture originally scheduled as MW with a Friday recitation session; and his first action in the course was to cancel the recitation sessions because he didn't have enough graduate students. Thus it went from a two-day class with an opportunity to ask questions in a smaller session to a two-day class with no opportunity to ask questions. I proceeded to have a bizarre experience where I felt that I knew the material, studied pretty well, and proceeded to make a 67 on the first exam, the worst grade I had ever made. I then went to office hours, where the guy didn't show up (I sat outside his door for the entire hour, along with at least fifteen other people). Of course, this exam was the day after the drop period ended.
So, did I slack? Sure. I did a tiny fraction of the reading in most courses (with the exception of some truly well-taught English courses with excellent curricula), understanding that most of it was intended to make things "hard" because the professor had an image of her students slaving away at a desk in the basement of the library for hours every week. I also did relatively poorly after college—but not because I lacked education. Instead, it was because I moved back to my home town, which had no job prospects whatsoever. If college had included more genuine advising and mentoring, or if I'd slacked more and done more socializing, I probably wouldn't have fallen so hard into a pattern of "embracing the status quo" and accepting living at home: but it didn't, I didn't, and I did, so I spent four years grossly underemployed before finally getting a good job, then using that to springboard further into my career.

I still credit the place I am now (homeowner, good income) with the one professor I had who was what I pictured a professor being: an adviser and teacher. When I asked him if I should go to graduate school, he advised me honestly and directly about the profession and job prospects, and I listened. Otherwise I might've been like so many people I know, who ended up going to graduate school as a default option to stave off underemployment, who ended up underemployed anyway, just most of a decade older and deeper in debt.

So no. It's not slacking that's making people underemployed: it's the general environment. Most of the concept of "difficulty" in education is theater for the self-flagellation of people buying into the myth or for self-centered "educators" who believe that they must torture students in order to impart some sort of Universal Truth.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:32 AM on September 4 [3 favorites]


Maybe the students with the personal resources that allowed for studying were the ones with the personal resources to land $40k> jobs 2 years after graduation. It's difficult putting your time into studies when your basic needs aren't met.
posted by anemone of the state at 7:08 AM on September 4 [4 favorites]


It's pretty clear that the intended audience of the pie-charticle are self-satisfied boomers who never hit a snag on their way to middle management.

Minimum wage > $10/hr in today's money? Check.

College tuition < $1000/year in today's money (or plain free!). Check.

Good careers for "Gentleman's C's?" Check.

Yep, it was just grit and bootstraps that got you to where you are today. You deserve a tax break.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 7:23 AM on September 4 [15 favorites]


The reading assignments are completely unrealistic. ... Even if I read this volume of information over Tuesday and Wednesday nights, what would I retain?

I dunno. We could ask the people who did the reading.

Professors are arrogant and self-centered. On my first day of class, I went from the English history class to a seminar class directly afterward. I had never been to the building and it took me a bit to find the classroom. I was about two minutes late—the class started at 3:00 and I was there at 3:02.

...but yet a whole bunch of other people, many or all of them also first-year students who hadn't been to that building before, made it there on time because they planned better than you.

I proceeded to have a bizarre experience where I felt that I knew the material, studied pretty well, and proceeded to make a 67 on the first exam, the worst grade I had ever made. I then went to office hours, where the guy didn't show up (I sat outside his door for the entire hour, along with at least fifteen other people)

Skipping your office hours isn't cool at all, but students who think they know the material but do poorly on tests is boringly normal. As in, I see at least ten (out of 150 or so) every time I teach an introductory course. I think this is in large part because introductory courses aren't intrinsically difficult, so some people look at the text, understand what they're seeing in the moment, and fail to realize that they can't actually recall or use any of the material because they haven't had that ability tested until the actual exam.

I did a tiny fraction of the reading in most courses (with the exception of some truly well-taught English courses with excellent curricula), understanding that most of it was intended to make things "hard" because the professor had an image of her students slaving away at a desk in the basement of the library for hours every week.

That's what college is; you should expect to spend two to four hours outside class for every hour you spend in class. That's why a normal college load for a reasonably diligent student outside engineering results in them spending fifty to sixty hours a week in class or on their classes.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:55 AM on September 4 [4 favorites]


So in an attempt to refute someone's claim that professors are arrogant and self-important, you, a professor, are telling a middle class homeowner with a good job that he did college wrong? Interesting rhetorical strategy.
posted by mellow seas at 8:08 AM on September 4 [6 favorites]


The entitlement that professors like to show off here is just breathtaking sometimes. Nowhere else in the world could anyone (except maybe a train engineer, who has a legitimate reason) get away with turning someone away for being two minutes late. (I hope that professor synchronizes his clock with the atomic clock every night; two minutes is much less than the error I see in most clocks in the wild.) I've shown up at job interviews later than that and gotten the job (in this economy!). Locking someone out after two minutes is nothing more than a jackass power trip, pure and simple.
posted by enn at 8:34 AM on September 4 [4 favorites]


FWIW, I'm not a professor, slacked off at uni and now (10 years later) have a comfortable job with a low-six-figures net income. I also found Mr Meat Machine to be somewhat lacking in the introspection department when reading his dismissal of college.

Telling people that they are supposed to be on time is teaching them basic professional skills.
posted by brokkr at 8:37 AM on September 4


I dunno. We could ask the people who did the reading.

As a data point, I made an A in the course.

...but yet a whole bunch of other people, many or all of them also first-year students who hadn't been to that building before, made it there on time because they planned better than you.

Scheduling one class directly against another was better planning than most people did, because it took 30 minutes to walk from my dorm to the classroom buildings, and the bus was always late or full. By scheduling a block of classes rather than spacing them out, I avoided having slack time where I had to wander around on campus or sit around for an hour. As I got more experienced, I actually modified my strategy a bit: I would leave when the class block was over, not when the professor ended class. This way, I had time to walk from one class to the next comfortably without being made late by inconsiderate professors.

Skipping your office hours isn't cool at all, but students who think they know the material but do poorly on tests is boringly normal.

You're right. I've seen them as an adjunct. The difference is that I provided resources for them when they were disabused of their mistake, rather than canceling the recitations and making myself unavailable to them. I eventually passed the course with a C+ through my own efforts. I actually stopped going to lectures except for exams, the only time I ever did that. By the end of the course over half of the people had dropped, and I know someone for whom it was their only F. He was abysmal, and the head of the department.

That's what college is; you should expect to spend two to four hours outside class for every hour you spend in class. That's why a normal college load for a reasonably diligent student outside engineering results in them spending fifty to sixty hours a week in class or on their classes.

You don't know me, or anything about me, and you prescribe that I should be working for a fixed amount of time on course materials? That's ridiculous. Where does this idea come from? If I am working with a junior developer, I don't tell them: "You should be spending at least six hours writing tests for this function." I tell them, "You should write tests for this function." They write the tests. I review them. Life is good. The same mechanism is true for professors. You don't get to tell me: "You should be reading everything in the world!" You set out expectations. Those expectations are the papers and exams. If I do well on those papers and exams, I have succeeded. Now, there are good professors, who grasp this concept, and there are bad professors, who think that their class is all that matters and that it should consume my life.

Once, a good professor assigned a paper with two drafts and a final version. I turned in the same paper three times, ignored peer feedback, noted as much to him, and got an A on the paper. Do you think it would've been better for him to reject my paper because I spent two hours on it instead of laboriously working on it for days, revising it twice in response to silly feedback, and so on?

Also, I am a voracious and fast reader. I can read a long novel in a couple of days. However, if I'm reading for comprehension (learning new things for my job, for example), I usually spend more time on it. A dense computer science paper can take me about a week to read if it's around thirty pages long. I've been working through Elements of Programming for the last two weeks. Nobody can read, retain, and understand material at the volume required for most classes. The amount assigned is either pure fantasy or sadism. Imagine someone with five classes (a typical 15-hour course load). We'll pretend that they're assigned 25 pages per class period, although it's usually much higher. They have three MWF classes and two TR classes. This would mean the week's assignments are 75, 50, 75, 50, and then 75 pages. I was relatively privileged—I had a scholarship, no learning disabilities, and am a natural reader—and yet I found it impossible to read effectively at that volume. What if they have a paper due in one of the courses? Or an exam on Thursday? What if they're working part time? Full time? What if they have a child?

The two types of students are people who don't read and feel guilty, and people who don't read and don't give a damn. My theory? As more people are going to class, the mythos of higher education is breaking down as people recognize it is just a cargo cult. Students become more sophisticated, don't bother slaving over reading that is never tested anyway, and spend their time trying to network and socialize (which has a higher ROI).

Telling people that they are supposed to be on time is teaching them basic professional skills.

So say: "Hello! I hope you'll be on time in the future, welcome to class." I could then say: "Sorry, my fault. I'll be on time next time." Don't tell me that you're disgusted by my disrespect. Seriously? Have you been alive in the world? How can two minutes' tardiness disgust you? (On the plus side, his overreaction allowed me to avoid having him as a professor; I'm sure he was horrible.)
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:55 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


People who are consistently late for meetings generally do not value the time of other people. It's a real turnoff.
posted by Nevin at 9:10 AM on September 4


People who are consistently late for meetings generally do not value the time of other people. It's a real turnoff.

Yep, which is why I'm very punctual outside of cases where I have 5 minutes to walk a quarter of a mile across campus to a room I haven't seen yet.
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:15 AM on September 4 [1 favorite]


People who are consistently late for meetings generally do not value the time of other people. It's a real turnoff.

You know what else is a turnoff? Having exactly 15 minutes to navigate your way down from the top floor of one building, out of one campus, across another campus, and up to the sixth floor of another building.

And then realizing, as the first class ends, that you have just menstruated everywhere. And panicking and crying as you clean yourself up in the public restroom, wet pants and all, because every minute you spend in there is worsening the balling out you're about to receive in front of your fellow students in your next class.

Yeah, punctuality is important. But we're not talking about a corporate world wherein meetings are scheduled around everybody's needs and can be moved about fairly easily. We're talking about a situation in which course requirements sometimes necessitate poor scheduling, infrastructure (in the form of elevators and shuttles) rarely meets demand, and the power dynamic greatly favors the professor, who can show up late without any retribution.

Punctuality is important, but so is compassion. Professors who are unnecessarily harsh and overbearing do not value the humanity of their students, and are, themselves, engaging in behaviors that are frowned upon in the working world.

And speaking as someone who genuinely tried to read—not skim, read—every single word of every single assignment she received: it's not possible. I had multiple courses with over a dozen books, in addition to course packets, handouts, and research papers. It turns out that undergraduate education is, as much anything, an exercise in prioritizing, which is to say, learning what you can get by without doing in order to meet deadlines.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:57 AM on September 4 [6 favorites]


You don't know me, or anything about me, and you prescribe that I should be working for a fixed amount of time on course materials?

No, I was only responding to your claim that an amount of reading (or other work) that would require "slaving" for "hours" is bad and wicked. Assigning an amount of work that you expect a normal student to take several hours to perform is, in fact, completely normal and well within what you should have expected from college courses. Your long tirade about how you can do things faster isn't relevant, because you yourself stated that you could not perform that assigned work in less than "hours of slaving."

They have three MWF classes and two TR classes. This would mean the week's assignments are 75, 50, 75, 50, and then 75 pages.

That seems entirely normal to me, not some sort of torture.

I was relatively privileged—I had a scholarship, no learning disabilities, and am a natural reader—and yet I found it impossible to read effectively at that volume.

The lesson here is that you are not as quick a reader as you thought, and that you should not be shocked if keeping up with those requirements takes more than 50 hours a week (though if it takes more than 60 or 70, outside of engineering, then it probably really is overkill).

What if they have a paper due in one of the courses? Or an exam on Thursday?

They know those well in advance and should plan accordingly.

What if they're working part time? Full time? What if they have a child?

Being an undergraduate student on a four-year schedule is a full-time job, so we shouldn't necessarily expect it to be fully compatible with extensive work in the market or heavy child-rearing duties. The solution for those people is to take more than four years to graduate.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:01 AM on September 4 [1 favorite]


The solution for those people is to take more than four years to graduate.

Terrific, now that you solved that problem, maybe you should turn your considerable talents toward the Middle East. I understand they have quite the dilemma.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 11:10 AM on September 4 [3 favorites]


“I was fairly academically engaged in that I tried very hard not to fail most of my classes [laughter],” one student, Eric, a biological/life sciences major at a “more selective” institution, was quoted as saying.

Fuck you, what am I supposed to be doing in my classes? Some of us are not straight A students at our "more selective" institutions. I'm learning as much as I fucking can and I'm basically trying not to fail. Fuck off, you judgmental bastards.
posted by maryr at 11:37 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


Ahem. Sore spot.
posted by maryr at 11:37 AM on September 4


Your long tirade about how you can do things faster isn't relevant, because you yourself stated that you could not perform that assigned work in less than "hours of slaving."

No. I couldn't. My experience points to my being a better reader and student than most; if I can't perform the assigned readings to my accepted standard, how in the world could someone who doesn't read as well or who has more claims on their time?

That seems entirely normal to me, not some sort of torture.

Well, it depends on what type of reading. What if most of it is textbooks? In that case, it can take an hour to read ten or twenty pages. Let's say 15, and let's further claim that we have an English class so 25 pages on MWF is a novel, which we can read at 50 pages per hour. Thus, for English classes, we have half an hour of reading on MWF. Not so onerous. The rest is textbooks, though; we'd have about 3h20m per day. The approximate value would thus be 3.5 hours of reading per day, in addition to going to class, studying for tests, and other assignments. This also assumes that you're going to even be able to context switch enough to make reading complex material in five separate subjects for 3.5 hours a day worthwhile, which I doubt.

The lesson here is that you are not as quick a reader as you thought, and that you should not be shocked if keeping up with those requirements takes more than 50 hours a week.

Yes, the lesson is that despite getting great grades for most of my university courses, my approach was incorrect, or perhaps morally repugnant, and there's no way the requirements were inflated.

They know those well in advance and should plan accordingly.

Yes, of course. However, note that if you get behind in the readings, you are behind forever unless you are reading well below your threshold or you write some of the readings off. In actual fact, this is how my reading-slacking began. I didn't finish Gawain and the Green Knight or my 70 pages of history (plus introduction and preface). I thought, "Okay, I will go to class and then catch up on the reading the next day." The next day's reading was a similar volume, and completely different; and we only discussed Gawain for one class period, nor did we talk about the history text at all in class (the lecture was separate). So, instead of catching up, I tried the next reading, which I read half of, and then skimmed. Once again, we didn't discuss it in class. Over the next while, I stopped reading, and it never mattered. The Linguistics professor, bless his worthless heart, assigned soft sociology ("field linguistics?") texts that didn't even cover anything that was ever tested or discussed in class. The only book I really used was my French text. It had exercises and practice readings.

The lesson here is that you are not as quick a reader as you thought, and that you should not be shocked if keeping up with those requirements takes more than 50 hours a week (though if it takes more than 60 or 70, outside of engineering, then it probably really is overkill).

If I graduated from a prestigious school with a good GPA (although I decided not to do honors) without doing the readings, why in the world is my approach wrong? The readings were not apparently necessary for comprehension of the subject, otherwise I wouldn't have gotten B+/A on most of my tests and essays or made the Dean's list six of my eight semesters. I will note that I achieve mastery of much more difficult subject matter in my profession, on my own terms. It takes me a fraction of the time that I spend actually working.

Being an undergraduate student on a four-year schedule is a full-time job, so we shouldn't necessarily expect it to be fully compatible with extensive work in the market or heavy child-rearing duties. The solution for those people is to take more than four years to graduate.

In my opinion, on the other hand, being a student to get a credential should not be a full-time job. There is no reason someone working a full-time job who wants to become a nurse should not be able to do so; and it should be doable in a reasonable amount of time. Adding literature, history, and foreign language requirements on top of this sort of professional aspiration is worse than useless—it costs real money for the person who could have been professionally trained sooner. ("Core" classes took about 3 semesters' worth of time at my university. Imagine a nurse graduating a year and a half early! They would save tens of thousands in tuition and associated costs, and gain tens of thousands in potential income.)

Fuck you, what am I supposed to be doing in my classes? Some of us are not straight A students at our "more selective" institutions. I'm learning as much as I fucking can and I'm basically trying not to fail. Fuck off, you judgmental bastards.

This is precisely my point. Many of the assignments aren't there to help you learn more, they're there to provide grist for an idealized College Experience mill. Reading three hundred pages about the life of a peasant in medieval England is a waste of your time and energy. This is bad enough for people with the luxury of reading a third of it and saying "my god, this is just saying the same damn thing over and over" and throwing the book on his desk. For people who genuinely have to work harder, it's worse than that, because it seems like everything is necessary. I think "better students" often just have a better ability to filter wheat from the chaff.
posted by sonic meat machine at 12:18 PM on September 4 [4 favorites]


Hundreds of pages of reading every week, and I loved every minute (except Nietzche).

Now I am a professor, and my assignments are intentional and relevant and useful, or I do not make them. Sometimes they may take awhile, but that time is spent learning. To me, you are describing bad teaching, not some universal description of what college is. At the very least, you are not describing my college experience or (as far as I know) that of my current students.
posted by hydropsyche at 12:46 PM on September 4 [3 favorites]


My point is that the charticle (I love that term) is equating "hours studying" with success. The expectations seem to be based on a bizarre perspective that if only the current generation had studied harder, they'd have good jobs. The expectation, apparently, is that if they were studying 50, or 60, or 70 hours a week, they'd be waaaay more employable, which just isn't true. It is the message ("Lazy kids!") espoused by many teachers, professors and instructors, many of whom have no experience in industry or business.

Is it bad teaching that I'm describing? Yeah, it is. It was also everywhere at my school and other highly selective institutions with which I am familiar.
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:12 PM on September 4 [1 favorite]


One of our grads was diagnosed with ALS a few years after graduating. He and his buddies were all "adrift", doing independent music, art, odd jobs.

When he got sicker, they formed a magnificent posse (an Often Awesome Army) to take care of him 24/7, to give his wife respite, etc. Several learned to clean and insert the trach tube, others took care of his bathing, still others walked the dog and found great music for him to listen to.

I remember thinking just how little flexibility they would have had if those folks had become "successful" after college; how Tim would've been in a nursing home, instead of home with his wife and dog, listening to cool music and putting out little vids of him and his friends.

So, "adrift" is not the worst thing that can happen, imho.
posted by allthinky at 2:51 PM on September 4 [4 favorites]


This is precisely my point. Many of the assignments aren't there to help you learn more, they're there to provide grist for an idealized College Experience mill. Reading three hundred pages about the life of a peasant in medieval England is a waste of your time and energy.

You come across very bitter, cynical, and even disdainful of education (and even other students), making me wonder your entire motivation for responding throughout this thread. I admit I didn't enjoy every second of the courses that weren't specifically required for my major, but I still approached them with the same enthusiasm and vigor as the courses I did enjoy. And I would say I definitely learned something from every one of those courses. Honestly, maybe you think Civics, Gender/Ethnic Studies, foreign language, Anthropology, and World Religion are a "waste of time and energy", but these are the kinds of classes that create a more well-rounded and engaged person.
posted by FJT at 3:44 PM on September 4


You come across very bitter, cynical, and even disdainful of education (and even other students)...

I am disdainful of the higher education system we have built. I am disdainful of it for some of the reasons I outlined above, and somewhat because of things I observed while working in it as a teacher. I am not disdainful of education nor of students. I don't think soft sciences or the humanities are a waste of time and energy; I think that having them be gatekeepers of the goal (which in most cases is a career credential) is a waste of time and energy. I mean, I have shelves of philosophy, religion, history, and literature in addition to my professional books. All of it is valuable. It's also taught really weirdly. For example, in that English history course, an introductory survey, we barely talked about the War of the Roses, but we talked about the Life Of The Peasant for weeks. Weeks. It was thin gruel, it felt like we repeated the same thing in every class, and the readings were voluminous monographs on minutiae.

...making me wonder your entire motivation for responding throughout this thread.

"Kids these days" articles always get my goat, particularly when they're argued from an idiotic place. Plus it's been a while since I posted much on Metafilter, so I probably had it bottled up. :D

I guess one of the major things that bugs me about higher education as it stands is that it seems to build this culture in which we perceive passing through this bureaucracy as the forge of knowledge. The current professorial class ascended the walls of academe, pulled up the ladder behind them, and then proceed to expound upon how students these days are just doing it wrong.

It's worth remembering that people are paying tens of thousands of dollars, perhaps six figures, for a college education... so each wasted requirement or failure of a class translates directly to money wasted. My terrible Linguistics class, for example—a failure of education in every regard—cost at least $300,000. Without considering the books that the professor never used.

...these are the kinds of classes that create a more well-rounded and engaged person.

Are they? Really? I was already pretty engaged and curious when I went to college, and so were most of my friends. The people who weren't well-rounded and engaged didn't get admitted, or they failed out as frosh. I'd tend to think that most peoples' personalities have formed by the time they're 18-22. Maturation happens, of course, but I honestly think that's more likely a result of living away from your family and being somewhat more self-reliant.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:49 PM on September 4


Is it bad teaching that I'm describing? Yeah, it is. It was also everywhere at my school and other highly selective institutions with which I am familiar.

I'm sorry you had that experience. I intentionally chose a (sort of) selective school for the educational experience. I wasn't particularly interested in "highly selective" schools, and it sounds like that was a good call, although your experience is not what my friends have described from other schools I think of as selective (e.g., Davidson, Oberlin, Swarthmore, Duke). I currently teach at an open-access school (no SAT score required), which costs less than $2500 per semester, and my students are not getting an education anything like the one you describe.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:17 PM on September 4


Are they? Really? I was already pretty engaged and curious when I went to college, and so were most of my friends. The people who weren't well-rounded and engaged didn't get admitted, or they failed out as frosh.

Yes, really. Not everyone is like you (or your friends). Some of us don't start off curious or engaged. When I was attending community college, there were all kinds of people that went and for different reasons. EMTs that wanted to be firefighters. Guys out of the military that wanted to transfer to a four-year. Working people that wanted to change careers. Or just people that liked to learn. I enjoyed both my time in community college and at a four-year university, but I definitely feel it was community college that taught me that people are changing, all throughout their lives.
posted by FJT at 6:25 PM on September 4 [2 favorites]


This story says that students have declined from ~24 hrs / week studying to about ~12 hrs / week. So the times reported in the FPP are roughly in line with that.

grobstein, thanks for sharing the comparative numbers - I graduated in 2012 and indeed I don't think I studied for 24 hrs/week myself, probably in the 12-15 range. I also did in fact spend more than 25% of my time sleeping, since I was sleeping 8 hours/night...

(I have held a full time job for almost two years and it pays competitively for my field!)
posted by capricorn at 6:10 AM on September 5


Now I remember why I dropped out.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:00 PM on September 5


When in undergrad, I did

15 hours of class time per week
15 hours (minimum) commuting
5-10 hours of part-time work (I was very lucky not to have more)
10-20 hours of basic reading (some of which could be done while commuting, of course)
and then there was the reading and research for papers...

there was a reason that I could only watch 1-2 hours of television a week, and not every week (I taped my Buffy and would catch up when I could).

My SO recently taught undergrads. Many of them were working 20-30 hours a week. Some were paying for school, some were helping to support their parents and/or children.
posted by jb at 5:37 PM on September 5 [2 favorites]


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