Nearly one in five college seniors and 25 percent of freshmen say they frequently come to class without completing readings or assignments, a national survey shows. And many of those students say they mostly get A’s on their report cards.
The survey doesn’t address whether those students are lazy, busy, intimidated, bored or geniuses. But it supports other studies that suggest a disconnect between what college professors expect from students and what students actually do.
“College learning is a two-way street,” says Indiana University professor Alexander McCormick, director of the National Survey of Student Engagement, which conducted the study. “The purpose here is not to dump on faculty, but when a substantial chunk of students come to class unprepared, it suggests that they can get away with it.”
Findings, out today, are based on surveys this spring of nearly 380,000 randomly selected freshmen and seniors at 722 four-year colleges. Participating schools generally reflect the diversity of U.S. higher education.
Colleges use the survey to help evaluate the quality of their undergraduate education. Among findings:
— Students report spending about 3.5 hours a week preparing for each class. That’s about half of what instructors expect: 6.8 hours a class.
— 59 percent of seniors and 55 percent of freshmen said they frequently worked harder than they thought they could to meet an instructor’s standards.
— Of those who frequently didn’t do homework, 30 percent of freshmen and 36 percent of seniors got mostly A’s.
Those findings echo observations of Northern Arizona University anthropology professor Cathy Small, who spent a year living in a dorm and attending classes alongside freshmen as part of research for a 2005 book.
Many students cut corners as a way of managing the demands of student life, when “there were no consequences and no rewards for doing or not doing” homework, she says.
Small has since cut back on required reading, and ties homework directly to discussions, quizzes or exams. “Part of accountability meant you created readings that were realistic in terms of the goals of the class.”