In the modern classic Animal House, Faber College’s hippest English professor (played beautifully by a younger, more mustachioed Donald Sutherland) ends his lecture with a dose of defeatism:
“Don’t write this down, but I find Milton probably as boring as you find Milton. Mrs. Milton found him boring too. He’s a little bit long-winded, he doesn’t translate very well into our generation, and his jokes are terrible.”
Bell rings, students rise to leave.
“But that doesn’t relieve you of your responsibility for this material. Now I’m waiting for reports from some of you… Listen, I’m not joking. This is my job!”
According to a new AEI Outlook from economists Philip Babcock of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Mindy Marks of the University of California, Riverside, the academic disengagement and lax policies that characterize Sutherland’s fictitious course have increasingly become the norm in American higher education. Using data that stretch from 1961 to 2003, Babcock and Marks estimate that American college students have gone from studying about 24 hours per week (about what colleges expect, given credit hour requirements) to spending about 14 hours hitting the books. Today’s students are not only failing to connect with Paradise Lost; they are failing to connect with just about every subject. The decline is seen regardless of majors, whether students’ parents went to college, or whether students are employed. For discussion of the causes and consequences of the decline, see “Leisure College, USA.”
Faber College’s motto states simply “Knowledge Is Good.” Unfortunately, Babcock and Marks reveal that our college students don’t seem to spend nearly as much time in search of that good stuff as they used to.