Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Campus life

In the course of commenting on two recent books on campus life, Naomi Schaefer Riley offers a radical suggestion:

What if it became hard to get good grades in college without devoting, say, at least 40 hours a week to attending classes and actually studying for them? One suspects that the alcohol problem--and many problems derived from idleness--would sort themselves out.

What think you, my professorial, parental, and student readers?

Hat tip: Brad Smith.

Discussions - 26 Comments

first there would be a huge wave of flunk outs. Momy and Daddy, who are paying through the nose would be horrified, Especially since little Cindy alwasy got such good grades in high school. The school administration would be raked over the coals and next years application would drop through the toilet. Transfers to more permissive envoirnments would be high.

Does your school have the cojones to ride this out?

The long term results would be exactly what you propose.

Evidence: Most people who fail to show for work, are consistently hung over, Engage in loud and crude discussions in the hall of their most intimate relationships ( or others) are laid off quite quickly. Same people learn a painful lesson very fast.

"Same people learn a painful lesson very fast."

Speaking from experience, Garrett?

Ohio State would be burned to the ground and the grad students (the ones who atually do the teaching) would be roasted on spits and eaten.

WM, pretty funny comment. However, in light of recent events at Ohio State (ex. rioting after a football game win) it doesn’t sound tooooooo far fetched.

I would like to say this however. The average GPA at Ohio State if I am not mistaken is about 2.9. However this may add up, it is not that impressive. When I was in college I studied my butt off and rarely missed a class in my 4 years. (I think I averaged about 1 or 2 missed classes a quarter usually because I wasn’t feeling good) I also spent numerous hours studying and speaking with my professors. Now, I can’t say that I studied 40 hours a week but nonetheless I devoted countless hours to my schoolwork. These hours of work ended up paying off in my final GPA.

I would also like to note that I was no social hermit crab either. I still went out to the bars on the weekends and occasionally during the week. To further my example I am still friends with individuals that went out 2 or 3 times a week to drink and still graduated with above a 3.7 GPA. I think what you see now is that kids are coming to school smarter and better prepared. In fact Ohio State themselves boast that there incoming class each year has the highest ACT scores of any incoming class. Finally, I would go as far to say that the amount of time you study is important, but when you study and how intense of a study that time is, is more important.

For those of you that are teachers or students, look around at your students and friends. I would suggest observing their habits. Look to see who the drinkers are. See if any of those are kids with good GPA’s and observe when they study, where and for how long. I think a good way to study is to study for 30 minutes before class (reviewing last lectures notes) and for about a half hour to an hour after class (reviewing the notes from that day) and on Sunday reviewing your notes from every lecture of the week. If a student does that not only does he/she still have plenty of time to "party" but also is an effective way to study. I would be willing to bet that most people who drink and pull off good GPA’s fit this profile or one similar.

Interested to hear what everyone thinks.

One part of Ohio State would not be burned down: the Law School. I have to read an almost 400 page record (testimony, oral arguments, an oral opinion, and an appellate opinion). It is about to kill me.

This bothers me, because on the face of it, it sounds very simple. but I suspect that it is not so simple.

First, in a 4-year degree program, most students learn how to be students. The average Freshman demonstrates terrible work habits and committment to learning compared with the average Junior and Senior. I cannot back this up, but I expect the Student Engagement Survey can, and it fits my own observations over many years.

Courses change, as well, as a student progresses. Freshmen take more survey courses taught by grad students, and based on SQ3R text organization. Upper-class courses tend more towards seminars, and specialized topics, and these students will (and do, I think!) read and study and produce more and better work. Testing also changes from the modal "objective" exam that characterizes most survey courses, to essay exams (which I love) and portfolios (which I hate!) that characterize more advanced work.

There is also a great deal of variation among programs. My program, for instance, generates the lowest, or nearly the lowest GPAs on campus, while Business and Education students (and many of our students are also Education students!) generate consistently high GPAs.

So, rather than suggest some blanket NCLB measures in higher ed, I would suggest instead a study that identifies the variables that lead to success, and those that do not.

Comment #5 scares me a bit, because the anonymous commenter doesn’t make any time for actually reading the assignments and seems to be willing to depend entirely upon the lecture notes, not upon reading and thinking for himself or herself. I’d like to think that that wouldn’t work very well in the classes I teach.

In general, I think that there is a kind of consumer mentality among many (not all) students. That mentality--implicitly or explicitly encouraged by the role course evaluations play in assessment--militates against being too demanding, either in terms of assignments or in terms of grading, and tends to lead professors to be entertainers and flatterers.

Joe- We agree on something! Your comment #7.

In general, I think that there is a kind of consumer mentality among many (not all) students. That mentality--implicitly or explicitly encouraged by the role course evaluations play in assessment--militates against being too demanding, either in terms of assignments or in terms of grading, and tends to lead professors to be entertainers and flatterers.

That is absolutely correct. But it is worse for TA’s, who have no tenure or job security. AS schools lazily rely on Student Evaluation of Instructors, TA’s with one eye on the job market have to do what they can to keep those scores up. Even if you think you are above that - and I like to think I am - you’re probably subconsciously appeasing students in one way or another. The alternative would be to have faculty members observe and evaluate the graduate students, and we all know what an outrageous notion that is - I mean, a full professor actually entering a 100 level class!!! Please!! A few do, of course - the majority are focused on their important research.


I guess that means that one of us has at least occasional moments of lucidity.


Or that you are both wrong


I understand your concern and went over and reread my comment. I would like to say this though. First, I do not want to take away the importance of studying the text and thinking critically about the subject matter at hand. In fact, I did plenty of this in my college career and it proved to be very beneficial. I should have been a little better at explaining myself in my earlier comment.

now, did I really on my notes? Of course I did. I will say this though about how I personally tackled studying for my classes. I always reviewed my notes after class to make sure I understood the material presented and usually to copy some of the pages to "clean" them up. Moreover, in doing so I would go to the text and find the relating matter in there and jot down anymore comments I found in there. As for the studying before class though, yes I mainly only relied on my notes. However, I do not think this is a bad thing though because as it "economizes" ones time. This was usually done for only about 30 minutes and flipping through a book would have diminished some of the times. I also didn’t state which I should have that on Sunday is when I would spend the bulk of my time reading the text on matters that were not brought up in class.

In closing, my main point was about studying effectively. If something is not covered in class it is probable that it is important and could be on a test but not as likely as something that was taught in class. I feel very strongly that the teacher is the authority and the student is there to learn therefore the teacher knows best about what subject matter is important. Would you disagree? As a result, if it is important it should be brought up in class (or at least mentioned) and if not it should still be studied, but most likely not as hard.

I think I am going to type everything in word from now on first.

now, did I really on my notes? This Should read as follows:Now, did I really rely on my notes?

These college kids are completely out of control these days. We can’t count on their Commie teachers to knock them in line we know that much. Maybe if we could get Bill Buckley and Cal Thomas to give required talks at every American college that could help things somewhat? A little God and Jesus wouldn’t hurt, too.

(9/11 - Never Forget!)

In general, I think that there is a kind of consumer mentality among many (not all) students.

I think that this is true, but it’s the culmination of a long trend--one that began with the GI Bill--in which a university education went from being a privilege for a small handful of young people to an expectation for most. Fifty years ago the mere possession of a university degree was enough to open all sorts of doors; GPA was relatively unimportant. Hence it was considered no big deal for Franklin Roosevelt (or even later, GW Bush or John Kerry) to skate through with a C average. Today, however, college graduates are a dime a dozen, so a high GPA has become a means of standing out from the pack. The necessary result of this has been grade inflation, which will ultimately make GPA worthless as an indicator of quality.

"A little God and Jesus wouldn’t hurt, too."

Amen, Mack! Good post!

Dain, I haven’t seen any comments from you lately. I hope all these Liberals haven’t chased you off!


I wonder if you would support grading on a curve? Law schools require a curve for all classes. For first year classes, most schools follow the top 25% is A, 26-74% B, and 75-100% C curve. Since almost every school offers a similar first year course load, employers can get a general idea of how hard a student has worked, and how smart he is, by his grades, adjusting for the school the student attends. I am curious as to how you would critique the system? It does generate a lot of competition.

Come on, Sandra. Are you serious? Do you really take that Mack Sandpaper guy seriously? You actually support his strain of idiocy?

I should think that this system would create some perverse incentives. For example, I can imagine a lot of scanning of course rosters, trying to get out of classes that have significant numbers of bright people. On the other hand, there would be a rush to get into classes with lots of underachievers.

I’ve taught classes where everyone has received A’s or B’s; I’ve also taught some where only one person has earned an A, and where there were plenty of C’s and D’s. A system such as the one you describe wouldn’t give me the flexibility to do that.

Tom, yes I’m serious. I do not see why everyone picks on poor old Mack and says he’s a joke. I think it’s clear that somethign isn’t right with American colleges and I think Mack made some good suggestions. I know that Liberals are pretty much anti-God and the idea that a little more religion in students lives will freak the Left out, but we have to try something to improve the situation. I can tell you that having faith and having a strong religious background has helped me out a great deal in getting through tough times in college. NOt to mention having a strong group of friends that I’ve made through my youth group.


I think the curving system takes a lot of pressure off of the professor. All the students know that some people have to get Cs (and even occassionally Ds). Since the professor can always claim the grade was not his choice (somebody has to get a C), he can get serious about differentiating students, which is the purpose of grades.

I do not think your perverse incentive argument is very strong. When I went to Ashland there were a couple of professors in the history department that were considered easy. The kids who did not want to work hard took them. Entire majors were the same way. With a curve, even professors who do not care about grades, and would prefer to give everyone As, would have to give Cs. I think a standard curve is a good way to differentiate. It must be acceptable because law firms use it to hire: they offer graduates $100,000 (+) their first year, so they must have some faith in the system.

I never had a "normal" college education, so I can’t say much about partying or slacking off. The only time I took a full load, I was also working 46 hours a week and caring for my family in a new environment. Most of my credits were picked up one or two courses at a time over 25 years. I have noticed a few things, however:

I served in the Air Force, and either took courses offered "on base" (I.E., by colleges that offered courses where the military was, usually overseas), or at colleges that had a large percentage of military people among their students. I also never took courses in their normal order, and many of my friends pursued their education the same way: 400-level classes at one base, 200-level at another, and the 300-level courses when and if they were available. Many US servicemen complete their "junior" or "senior" year before they can get the earlier basic credits they need, simply because the higher-level credits are more available to them.

Most of us studied under "tuition assistance" - a funding program where the military picks up the majority of the cost of tuition. One of the drawbacks of tuition assistance is that you can be asked to repay it if you don’t successfully finish the class. Maybe if junior or little-princess had to pay Mom and Dad back for the courses where THEY got bad grades, and if the courses were truly evaluated on a reasonable assumption of material learned, there would be an even quicker dropping away of childish things.

I think the curving system takes a lot of pressure off of the professor.

Personally I see the "pressure" (if that’s the word for it; university professor is a pretty low-stress career, all things considered) as a necessary part of my job.

When I went to Ashland there were a couple of professors in the history department that were considered easy. The kids who did not want to work hard took them.

That’s no longer the case in our department (as of very recently), I’m glad to say. But frankly, I don’t care about the slackers, and I’d just as soon not have them in my classes. The ones I care most about are the ones who work hard, who will participate in discussion, and who have a genuine interest in the subject matter. As I said earlier, I have had classes where I believed that virtually every student was deserving of an A or a B. Classes like that are an absolute delight to teach, and I wouldn’t want to unnecessarily penalize people in them by insisting on principle that some students will have to get C’s and D’s. Believe me--I give plenty of those the old-fashioned way.

Let me put it another way. Most semesters I teach two sections of Western Civilization, which is where I come into contact with a broad range of students. Inevitably, one section will be better, on average, than the other--it all depends on the mix of students. If I were to use the law school model, I would be unfairly penalizing some of those in the better section, and unfairly rewarding some of those in the worse one.

Also, as is the case at most universities, we have an honors program in which many core classes have sections specifically for people in that program. If the university were to employ the law school model that you describe, Steve, there would be a mass exodus from that program.

I prefer a modified curve...the "rate-buster" (or highest scoring individual in class) becomes the new ceiling and I rank all others from that point. I do this because I know I have very high standards that very few students fully live up to, and I’m also human and can make errors.

My modified curves generally give my students a half-grade break. Unfortunately, in some of my classes anywhere from 25% to 33% still make a ’D’ or lower. What it comes down to is that most students will rise to your expectations, but a minority simply won’t.

What Fung said in #6 is only partially true in my opinion. There is maturation; students do become better over time. Nonetheless, there is an attrition rate that accounts for some of this. Lots of freshmen drop out.

Good point, E.C.! If we use a cross-sectional view of class differences, attrition accounts for some of that difference. But, I was referring to the other "part," this longitudinal comparison of a particular student’s change in performance over the years.

My approach is similar to John’s, and I agree about the stress. This kind of decision is how we earn the big, big bucks.

But, I will sometimes curve when it appears that my apprach and expectations have been too stringent. If I teach Stats & Methods, or a particularly specialized upper level course, and the mean is a 68, then I must conclude that I have been moving a bit too quickly. IN those cases, I will use a curve, to insure that the best (and the worst)students earn grades appropriate to their work.

I never, however, curve in the 100 and 200 level courses, that I have been teaching frequently for years.

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