When I was in college in the 1960s, one of my economics professors made the statement: “Education is a strange commodity – the less you give the student, the happier he is.” I repeated that statement to one of my colleagues who graduated from college several years ago, and she told me, “Whenever one of my classes was canceled, and they were canceled frequently, I'd smile, pump my fists in the air and say, ‘Woo Hoo!’” Her sentiments mirrored to a tee the adage my professor quoted.
Why are we like that? Clearly, a certain lazy streak runs through most of us. While we know that at some point in the future we’ll be glad to know as much as possible, at present, however, we’re happy that life just got a little easier.
Because Americans haven't been demanding consumers of the higher-education establishment, the education community turned flabby on us, to a degree. Richard Vedder, who teaches economics at Ohio University, spells out the ways in an opinion piece in the April 11, 2019, Wall Street Journal.
“Students don’t study much, professors teach little… Surveys of student work habits find that the normal amount of time spent in class and otherwise studying is about 27 hours a week. The typical student takes classes only 32 weeks a year, so he spends fewer than 900 hours annually on academics.”
“It wasn’t always this way… students in the middle of the 20th century spent nearly 50% more time - around 40 hours weekly - studying. They now lack incentives to work very hard, since the average grade today - a B or B-plus - is much higher than in 1960, when the average grade-point average of around 2.5 implied a typical grade of B-minus or C-plus.
“I’m part of the problem: I’ve been teaching for 55 years, and I assign far less reading, demand less writing, and give higher grades than I did two generations ago.
“Learning takes time, so the diminution of effort surely means students are learning less. Snippets of data confirm that suspicion. Sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa have demonstrated, using the Collegiate Learning Assessment, that the typical college senior has only marginally better critical reasoning and writing skills than a freshman."
The “typical professor is in class around one-third fewer hours than his 1965 counterpart. At my mid-quality state university (Ohio University), I taught three courses a week for nine hours in 1965; my colleagues today teach only two courses for six hours.”
“To be sure, there are many exceptions. On some campuses, students study much more. Engineering majors probably work much harder than communications or gender-studies majors. And there are professors who are in their offices more than a few hours a week. Students in law and medical schools often work very long hours. Many hard-science researchers spend much time in their labs.”
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My desire, in wanting to share excerpts of this column with you is to say, we can spend our money and time on anything, wisely or unwisely. America has been drunk on the notion that our children need to go to college, and we send them off without thoroughly examining what we are buying. We’ve not been asking, is this education they are seeking going to offer commensurate value for the cost?
As a nation, it’s also fair to conclude that we've not been weighing all of the options. As far as earning power is concerned, would the son or daughter actually do better in a trade school vs. college, potentially at a fraction of the cost? Or if they do choose college, are they choosing a college and a field of study which demands a lot of them but rewards them commensurately? At the end of the day, there is no free lunch – you give a lot to get a lot, or put yourself out only a little and receive little in return. Also, online education is a growing option to be considered.
It is all common sense, but we haven't been fully employing it, and now many of our young people are saddled with huge college debt accompanied by diminished earning power. The good news is, we are now waking up.