A story in today’s Post talks about a generational decline in study time, the number of weekly hours college students devote to actual study. Since the 1960s, the weekly total has dipped from 24 to about 15. College has become, in effect, a part-time job.
Students say they are more efficient than before, and adults say they are busier - - distracted by work, dependent care and long commutes. Researchers who track study time say those things account for only part of the decline. Even at the nation’s most selective schools, where few such distractions exist, the average student logs only about 18 hours in weekly study.
Here are five schools - - not all elite, and not all private - - where students spent 18 hours or more in weekly study. That means the schools, two of which are in Virginia, are probably among the top 10 percent of colleges nationally in weekly study time, as measured by the National Survey of Student Engagement, the source of the study-time data.
1. University of Wisconsin. The Madison flagship has an outdated reputation as a party school. But survey data show that freshmen at Wisconsin study 20 hours a week, and seniors study 18 hours a week. I could not find a single other public university anywhere in the nation that performed as high on that measure.
Seniors at the University of Virginia, for example, log 16 hours a week, and those at the College of William and Mary report 17. Seniors at U-Mass Amherst study 15 hours a week; seniors at the University of Georgia study 13. Wisconsin outscores the University of Rhode Island, the University of Arizona, the University of Wyoming, Rutgers, the University of North Dakota, the University of Minnesota and the University of Texas.
Like those other schools, Wisconsin attracts some of the top students from its state. Valedictorians and Advanced Placement scholars from Wisconsin and Minnesota (via a reciprocity agreement) certainly don’t show up to party, said Lori Berquam, dean of students. They have made hard work part of the campus culture.
“I think there’s a sense that it’s an honor to go here,” she said.
2. Sweet Briar College. This rural, all-female campus, set on 3,250 acres outside Lynchburg
Lexington, Va., outperforms most of the nation in student study time. Freshmen and seniors each report 19 hours of weekly study. Yet, the school is hardly elite. Four-fifths of applicants are admitted, and SAT scores average about 1100.
“I can’t compete with some of the elite institutions on inputs,” said Jo Ellen Parker , Sweet Briar’s president, using industry parlance for selectivity. “I can compete with them on study time.”
Classes are small at Sweet Briar, and distractions are few. Sweet Briar itself is barely a town; students seldom leave campus to work, shop or drink. Most students have part-time on-campus jobs, but there are few off-campus employers to lure them away from their studies. And, of course, there are no male students.
“You can’t walk to the Corner, like you can at U-Va.,” said Blair Passagaluppi, 22, a senior from Tappahannock, Va., alluding to the epicenter of social life in Charlottesville. “You’re here. You might as well go to the library.”
The library, which recently went on 24-hour footing for finals, feels like the epicenter of Sweet Briar. The student-faculty ratio is eight to one. Professors answer e-mails at midnight.
“We have small class sizes here,” said Katy Thompson, 19, a sophomore from St. Louis who works at the library. “They just call on you. And if you don’t know the answer, they’ll know you didn’t do the reading.”
3. Washington and Lee University. In reviewing many dozens of survey forms online, I found no campus, public or private, that outscored this Virginia school on overall average study time. Freshmen and seniors both report 20 hours in weekly study.
(For any institutional researchers in our audience today, W&L reported mean scores of 5.4 for both freshmen and seniors on the study time measure. If your school averages that high or higher on both class years, please let me know!)
Washington and Lee is, of course, a classic liberal arts school, with small classes, top professors and well-prepared students.
“For the most part, everything we teach is in classes of 25 or less,” said Bob Strong, interim provost. “So, we know our students. And we are comfortable asking them to put in a substantial amount of work. And they know that we know them. If you’re in a class of 25, your odds of being called on are a lot greater than if you are in a class of 100.”
Hard work is part of the culture at the Lexington campus. Maybe it has something to do with its proximity to the neighboring Virginia Military Institute, an exceedingly strenuous military academy.
“There’s something to a campus culture,” Strong said. “You can’t invent it, and you can’t radically change it.”
4. Kenyon College. Apart from Washington and Lee, Kenyon was the single highest-scoring college I found on the study time measure. Freshmen report 19 hours in weekly study, seniors 21.
Kenyon is a top-tier liberal arts school, like W&L; it ranks 33rd on the U.S. News & World Report list of national liberal arts schools, while Washington and Lee ranks 12th.
Set in remote Gambier, Ohio, Kenyon is nearly two centuries old but is sometimes called a “new Ivy,” perhaps because of its strong reputation for academics among collegiate leaders.
Kenyon scores highest of any college I found on study time among seniors, and it’s no fluke: the college requires seniors to go through a comprehensive “senior exercise,” sort of like a final project for a graduate degree.
“I’ve seen seniors who just nest in the library all day,” said Sarah Schiller, a Kenyon sophomore from Jackson Township, Ohio.
Kenyon also has the advantage of small classes. There’s no risk of nodding off in class.
“When you have nothing but small classes from the beginning to the end of your career, and you need to participate, there is an expectation that you will be prepared,” said Nayef Samhat, the Kenyon provost.
5. Centre College. Here is another remote liberal arts school, with small classes and a tradition of passing the “torch of knowledge” - - embodied by a sculpture at the center of campus. That tradition has, in turn, inspired a ritual of stripping naked and “running for the flame”. The Kentucky campus has the highest average for freshman study time (20.5 weekly hours) of any school I found.
Centre College has a campus culture of intense study, much like the four schools listed above.
“I usually get up around 5:30 or 6 and spend an hour doing personal writing,” said Natalie Pope, a junior from Louisville. Then breakfast, library and the gym. She’s also president of an interfaith organization, and leader of an Arabic language club, and she’s involved in student government, a member of a sorority, and an oboist in the college orchestra. Those things, Pope said, occupy her afternoons. Then, homework from 9 p.m. until the wee hours.
“It's not uncommon to see people closing out the library on a Saturday night,” Pope said.
Another quality Centre College shares with the other schools on this list (save the University of Wisconsin) is its remoteness. There are few hot spots to distract Centre students from their studies.
“It’s a very cute little main street, but there’s not much of a night life,” Pope said. “Your sole purpose in life is basically to be studying.”