Do Our Students Still Study?


By Jonathan H. Adler

Professors often lament that today’s students do not work as hard or are not as well prepared as in the past.  Others claim the good old days really weren’t that good, that professors idealize the past have a distorted view of how much work the average student put in when we were in school.  Then again, maybe today’s students actually don’t work as hard as students of days gone by — at least what’s reported in Leisure College, USAby economists Philip Babcock and Mindy Marks of UC Santa Barbara and UC Riverside respectively, just put out by the American Enterprise Institute.  Here’s their abstract:

In 1961, the average full-time student at a four-year college in the United States studied about twenty-four hours per week, while his modern counterpart puts in only fourteen hours per week. Students now study less than half as much as universities claim to require. This dramatic decline in study time occurred for students from all demographic subgroups, for students who worked and those who did not, within every major, and at four-year colleges of every type, degree structure, and level of selectivity. Most of the decline predates the innovations in technology that are most relevant to education and thus was not driven by such changes. The most plausible explanation for these findings, we conclude, is that standards have fallen at postsecondary institutions in the United States.

While the data is focused on undergraduate institutions, I would think the trend carries over into professional schools, including law school.

Of course there may be other explanations for the trend than a deterioration in study habits, but the authors made some effort to address such concerns.  According to Babcock and Marks, “the decline is not explained by changes over time in student work status, parental education, major choice, or the type of institution students attended.”  Nor does it appear that improvements in education technology explain the drop in study time.  They blame a drop in student achievement standards.  Babcock and Marks also present evidence that “students who study more in college earn more in the long run,” though I would wonder whether the relationship is causal.  Those with better study habits may just be those with more better work habits.  In any event, it appears to be the case that students don’t study like they used to.

(Hat tip: Paul Caron)

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