How much do college students really study? According to the annual National Survey of Student Engagement, the average college senior hits the books for about 15 hours a week. But the amount they devote to reading, reviewing notes, or participating in study groups varies significantly depending on their major. Engineering students rack up the most time—19 hours per week—while their business and social science major peers study a relatively paltry 14 hours per week.
The report also reveals that students aren’t meeting faculty expectations for how much time they should spend studying. Social science professors expect students to put in a minimum of 18 hours per week, but they're only studying 14 hours. And they work outside jobs almost as much as they study—an average 13 hours a week. Business professors expect students to study 15 hours a week, but instead of hitting the books for an additional hour, they're working a whopping 19 hours a week.
Engineering faculty expect students to study at the most—20 hours per week—but only 42 percent of students say they do that much. And even if they do study for the expected amount of time, a full 22 percent of engineering seniors say they frequently show up to class without having completed assignments. That's the highest percentage of any major.
The report's authors say there may be a mismatch between the workload professors and students believe is necessary to get good grades. That’s particularly problematic in the context of questions about the value of a college degree. If schools held students to higher academic and intellectual expectations, the experience might feel like more than a pricey rubber stamp.
One potential solution is for colleges to become more like elementary and secondary schools. In a high school classroom, for example, students are more likely to do homework because they know that the teacher will call on them or there’s going to be a pop quiz. In contrast, college students know that many professors will never check to see if they're doing the work. No wonder students at a college in Utah recently rebelled over their professor's use of the Socratic method—you need to have completed the reading in order to successfully participate in that kind of discussion and many students aren't used to doing it.
At a time when more than 40 percent of college students don't finish their degrees within six years—costing the economy billions over time—professors and teacher's assistants need to be able to check that students are doing assigned readings or completing assignments. That will help ensure that the students stay on track with their studies and don't drop out.
Of course, with higher education hit hard by budget cuts, all those business majors are sitting in overcrowded classrooms—making it even more difficult for faculty to engage every student and figure out whether they're studying. But if colleges are serious about helping students learn, they'll start thinking about how to change the campus culture to center on studying.