T Nation

College Learning?


I have been reading a bit lately about how little college students are learning, preparing for class, and being held accountable for their education (e.e, too easily passed).


In fact a study of 3000 full-time traditional age college students at 29 different universities and drew some interesting conclusions.

"After two years in college, 45% of students showed no significant gains in learning; after four years, 36% showed little change.

Students also spent 50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago, the research shows."

A breakdown of the "average" day (chart in first article_they did average week and I rounded the numbers for ease of reading)
12 hours recreating/socializing
6 hours sleeping
2.5 hours at work
2.5 hours at class
1 hour of studying

I am sure there are some issues with their findings but I find the break down of time usage particularly interesting because it seems to support what I have read many espouse on this site, that the college experience has little to do with your education.

I am curious, for current and newly graduated individuals - does this seem generally right?
For the less recently graduated, does this seem different from your experience?

In my case I do not remember how much time I spent doing what exactly, but I know I slept a lot more, I recreated a lot less, and I must have taken many more credits to have only spent that little amount of time in class daily. Pretty sure I spent more time studying, and I would not count myself as a big studier - more of a minimalist when it concerned learning the material (not in what is the minimum I can do to pass).

The context of my curiosity is that I am a university professor and am well aware of the back and forth of what 'no one is learning anything in college'. I am more interested in what are current student expectations and what can be done to engage the student more/raise their expectations of both the class and themselves as a student.

Exaggerated cliff notes:
According to reports, half of college students are lazy and their education sucks.


More like 12 hour sleeping and 6 hour recreating/socializing for me


How much work a student does I think really depends on a number of factors including major and personality.

I started out in school as a Biology/Zoology and French major and probably did more work my freshman and sophomore years than junior/senior when I changed to Exercise and Sports Science. Now on average I probably do about an hour of work/studying on an average weeknight, and that's because of a class outside of my major. Why do I not work more? Because I don't have to. These classes are easy as shit compared to biology and french. Easy as that!

Honestly though the most important things I got from college had little to do with classes or majors. The amount I grew and matured as a person from being forced to make entirely new friends and work with different kinds of people I think prepared me for the real world better than my education did, though it definitely helped the process along.


edited: to make more clear

There is a lot more to a college education that just the course content. These other things are often ignored or not credited to the college education and yet make up the very skills that employers require.


blame it on the ipad, wikipedia, and facebook.

college was tight.


Oh don't get me wrong I learned a ton in college (Like another language, for instance) and I definitely appreciate the degree I'll be getting in the end and it is the reason I'll be having a job straight after graduation.

And I suppose that the social maturation I experienced could simply be attributed to the natural maturation one experiences from 17 to 21, but I think the college environment was a definite catalyst.


I learned more in my frat house than I did in any class. As soon as a landed my current job I learned more than I did in college in the first six months. College is another racket.


I feel as if I never put in any effort into univeristy, and the feeling only grew as time went on. I just fnished my degree this past semester with a 7.9 on 10 and I do not feel as if this was an achievement or struggle or action worth praising. I finished the degree because I had the patience to do it. I don't feel as if I ever really broke a mental sweat. It's just something I did over the past 4 years.

I'm more proud of the full time work I did (entirely unrelated to my field) and the money I saved during school than I am about the school itself.

I handed in work knowing it wasn't what I was capable of and got A's anyway. I got bad mark's too occaisonally and didn't really mind because it showed the professor was actually paying attention.

For the record I have a Bachelor of Arts with Honours, specialization in Communications. I'm sure some will say this is why it was so easy, if I could go back I wouldn't have taken it.


I read a great article that's related to this before, but I can't find it. It was about the possible university buble bursting b/c not enough students were getting what they're paying for. Said how graduates should walk away with 3 things from university(I could be wrong about these), skills, knowledge and connections. It said how most graduates weren't getting enough knowledge and skills, and were only trying to build connections(think about how many people you know with blackberrys that really don't need them).

If true, not really surprising, I can think of a long list of people I know that just want to 'manage' other people into doing all the work.


How much do you think this was a lack of intellectual 'pushing' by the course/college and how much of it was your approach/expectations of the program/college?


There is a big debate on what exactly the students are paying for.

I think if students graduate college without developing necessary basic skills it says far more about the student than the college or university.


I did everything that was asked of me. I just feel like I wasn't asked much. All classes overlapped and all classes discussed dated theory with next to no real world relevancy. When a few professors chose to incorporate the later I listened intently and didn't mind what my mark was.

In group assignments if I tried to include real world ideas and applications my classmates stared blankly and demanded a quotation or a theory or a class slide that could be used for this point.

I developed this jaded perspective from what I experienced not what I expected.

For the most part I view university as an Ivory Tower that has divorced itself from reality in order to stand in judgement of it.

Of course not all professors exhibited this and I obviously don't know your teaching style or philosophy to include you in that generalization.


I can guarantee you there is no lack of learning at my school. I am being forced to remember shit loads and all of it is tested on. No easy passes here


Your experience is one reason I think college should include a wider, not narrower, set of classes. Once you get 'trapped' in your department/discipline, this can be a problem. Sorry that was your experience but hopefully in some years you can see more from your experience than disappointment.

I would argue that universities, at least in the US, are not divorced from reality (though some disciplines may certainly well be) but rather so hung up in the reality of getting funding (meaning meeting the agenda of those giving the money) that they have lost sight of educating. I actually think a greater disconnect could lead to better education - though many business leaders would strongly disagree.

Case in point, the ability to get outside funding in more important than ability to teach when it comes to gaining employment as tenure track jobs (based on a decade of looking at the job ads and talking to department chairs/deans/etc.)

On a different note: What do you think would have helped (generally) in your case/classes?


I blame the internet and copious amount of beer.


It seems I am having the opposite experience that some people here had. My school is primarily a research institution, and they seem genuinely concerned with ensuring that I leave with the both the knowledge and connections that come with my degree. I do believe, however, that much of this is dependent on the students. There are a staggering amount of research opportunities here, but there is nobody forcing students into them. And while many students do get actively involved, there are a number of students content to cruise through without putting in effort, and graduate with a degree that only has the University's good name to back it.

So yes OP, your statistics do seem accurate, but I believe that it is mostly dependent on the student to actively engage in learning, rather than treat it like a job, and simply move from one class to the next only looking to get out of it.

What schools can do to change this in their students is an entirely different question. Apart from creating research and work opportunities for students and encouraging them to take advantage of these opportunities, I do not see much else that can be done.

Shoot me a PM if you want any more information.


This is exactly how my school is


To actually respond to the topic.... I was talking to a friend about this and i will agree that most students aren't learning enough. He was telling me about one of his buddies at UC Santa Cruz that is graduating this year with a bachelors in psychology. His friend knows almost NOTHING about psychology. He has bs'd his way through his entire 4 years.

I definitely think it depends on the major. Science majors can't bullshit through and expect to graduate. Neither can Econ or Engineering majors. Majors like communications, any kind of art, psychology or sociology are pretty easily bullshitted in my opinion.


Alot of kids grow up watching American Pie, Van Wilder, Animal House and all sorts of other films, and expect college/uni to be this big party, just like in the movies, so they don't take it seriously.
Look at how responsibilities have changed over time, 50 years ago it was about moving out of your parents at 18, getting a degree or starting some career, marriage, house, kids, etc; now 18 year olds graduate from HS and a responsibility to them is to not go over their minutes on their cell phone, not crashing their parents car that they get to drive, or keeping their facebook status up-to-date.


College teaches me to manage money. Pay checks, rent. Keep my house clean, feed myself, delegate times, make decisions, and express myself. I study history and I mean to be something. Shouldn't be hard given the work