The College Cruise

The New York Times this week hosted a forum on summer homework, and while I voted “Yea!” many contributors and commenters thought summer homework a terrible intrusion on June, July, and August.  They conjured pictures of glassy-eyed, burnt-out drones steam-rollered by Gradgrind assignments, and they cited studies and anecdotes against good outcomes.  “Let ’em play!” they insisted, “let ’em congregate.”

The participants focused on primary and secondary school, but if students pass through those years as out-of-class, evening worker-bees, the habit doesn’t stick at the next level.  Data from large surveys of college students shows that college for all too many of them is just a part-time job.

One of the questions on the National Survey of Student Engagement asked about “Hours per 7-day week spent preparing for class (studying, reading, writing, doing homework or lab work, analyzing data, rehearsing, and other academic activities).”  Professors estimate that strong performance in college requires about 25 hours of homework to go along with a full load of courses.  In 2008, the number of students who reached that mark was miniscule.  Fully 43 percent of first-year students and seniors came in at 10 hours or less each week.  Only 17 percent of first-years and 20 percent of seniors passed 20 hours on homework.  Eight percent of first-years and 11 percent of seniors passed 25 hours.

The lax results echoed in other surveys.  On the 2008 College Senior Survey, the breakdown for seniors doing homework was:

—–10 hours or less              58.7 percent

—–11 to 15 hours                18.1 percent

—–16 to 20 hours                12.2 percent

—–More than 20 hours        11.1 percent

And the 2007 Your First College Year survey came up with these numbers for first-year students doing homework.

—–Less than 6 hours per week          37.5 percent

—–6 to 10 hours per week                33.2 percent

—–11 or more hours per week          29.2 percent

So, those who fret about homework in high school creating lifelong anti-leisure laborers needn’t worry.  The students don’t carry the homework disposition beyond high school, at least not the vast majority of them.  And they don’t have to get up early and catch the bus five days a week, either.

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