NYU Professor Calls for More Rigorous Class Work

College isn’t supposed to be easy; we all understand that much right?

If it were a cakewalk, despite the enormous price tag (and I mean, we’d be talking a LOT of cake here) then everyone and their mother would have a college degree and that just isn’t the case. In fact it is more often lately that fewer and fewer people are going to college and the ones that do don’t always finish—and it isn’t surprising why.

A recent article in Salon Magazine posed the question, “Are American College Kids Falling Behind?” The article interviews NYU sociology Professor Richard Arum, about his study that found that, “an increasing number of undergraduates are moving through college without working particularly hard, and without learning key skills like complex reasoning and critical thinking.”

In Arum’s opinion, students have found too many ways around an enriching and intellectually difficult education and are therefore obtaining substance-less degrees. His solution? “Greater academic rigor, faculty coming together and deciding that courses should have greater rigor in terms of reading and writing and hours spent studying.”

Greater rigor, you say? You mean that Cleveland State should ask more of me than the four research papers I have due in the four Writing Across the Curriculum (or, more appropriately “WAC”) classes I am taking? Or ask more than the 75-150 pages of reading I have due in a single class, plus other nightly assignments?

I don’t know about you, but I think they plenty rigorous as it is. In fact, I would argue that it is because of how much they are asking of their students, that universities across the country feel their student body is looking for shortcuts or just cruising through.

When asked what his study found, Arum had this to say; “Fifty percent of the kids in a typical semester say they haven’t taken a single course where they’ve been asked to write 20 pages over the course of the semester. And 32 percent have not taken a single class the prior semester for which they’ve been asked to read more than 40 pages per week on average, and in terms of homework, 35 percent of them say they do five or fewer hours per week studying alone.”

I wouldn’t call that lethargy or ineptitude Mr. Arum—I call that burn out.

Now, in all fairness, at Cleveland State, the general expectation is 2 hours of work outside of class for each credit hour in class (as in a 4 credit hour class expects 8 hours of work after class each week). However, the modern day college student is a very different creature from the college students of past generations, and I believe universities need to take this into consideration.

For example, the average cost per credit hour for in-state tuition at CSU is $325.75 per credit hour. At an average of 12 credit hours for full-time enrollment, you are looking at roughly $3,909.00 before room and board. Add in the cost of one room in Fenn Tower (double occupancy unit with living area and kitchenette) at $6,985.00 for the year, and $3,300.00 for the traditional dining package of 15 meals a week and $200 dining dollars and you’re already at $14,194—before books and parking are added in.

Yes, we usually get loans for all of this, but these loans (and interest) need to be paid off somehow don’t they? Outside of school I have two jobs just to try and keep up, and I have to manage those two jobs with 18 credit hours of classes. I think I am plenty challenged enough already, don’t you?

One other change worth considering is that we don’t learn the same way other generations used to. In a world where all of the knowledge in the world—though not always the most truthful or accurate—is at the touch of our fingertips thanks to Google, we seemingly lack the attention span for in-depth lengthy reading.

In Nicholas Carr’s iconic piece from The Atlantic, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” he discusses this changing trend, and for the most part it is unnervingly true. Why would we sit and read 150+ pages of theoretical framework in one night when we can Google up a summary and still be able to focus on other equally important things?

It is for this reason that students seek out easier classes on average, because otherwise there aren’t enough asylums in the country to handle all the tweaked-out would-be graduates the higher education system would spawn.

But as they always say, there is a fine line between genius and insanity.