Do University of North Dakota Students Study Enough?

The Princeton Review’s annual College Rankings are hardly an unproblematic source for “real” information on university life. Each year, the rankings allow some schools to trumpet their achievements while other schools are left shrugging their shoulders or making efforts to counteract perceived liabilities in the rankings.

For the past two years, the University of North Dakota has ranked number 1# among the school’s surveyed for students studying the least.  While we can critique the character of the survey or deride the sensationalist character of the Princeton Review’s efforts, many schools have taken to reflecting on these ranking and responding to them by attempting to change policies and campus culture.

The initial response by UND administrators to the Princeton Review’s ranking was the standard PR stuff:

tudents taking the survey may not have included certain kinds of studying in their answers, Johnson said.

“A number of our students engage in research with faculty members,” he said. “This is not typical at other institutions.”

Students often don’t think of research and other types of experiential learning as “studying,” Johnson said.

Steven Light, associate provost for undergraduate education, said UND’s extracurricular offerings prepare students for classes but are not considered traditional studying.

These are not particularly compelling responses.  If anything, students tend to have rather expansive views of what constitutes academic work, but I suppose it is possible.  In contrast to the Princeton Review’s results, it remains (vaguely) heartening that the NSSE Survey (a far more systematic survey of student life) reported that students studied for between 11 and 30 hours per week.

The majority of students in our major (history) tend to prepare rather regularly – if not diligently, so the results of the Princeton Review survey only partially jive with my own experiences. What I can say, however, is that there are easily observable reasons why our students would tend to underreport hours spent in preparation. Students here at UND still revel in a kind of anti-intellectual, anti-acadmic macho culture. Admitting that you study for class may seen as a kind of weakness. Denying that you study, in turn, forms a kind of resistance to the oppressive demands of a foreign and problematic institution.

At the same time, studying 11 hours a week (the bottom number indicated by the NSSE survey) could hardly be enough to survive and academically rigorous curriculum.  (Recent critiques of undergraduate education have tended to emphasize the decline in time-consuming, long-form, writing assignments.) I seem to remember the old adage that for each hour in class, we were to spend 3 hours preparing.  In this equation a 3 credit class would represent about 9 hours per week of work and a full schedule of 5 classes a daunting 45 hours of work outside of class time. This seems unlikely, but not impossible.  I know that I studied all the time as an undergraduate, but I also liked to study.

I wish I could convey my passion for studying to students, but in hindsight, I understand it to be a product of trust. I trusted that my professor and I were on the same side and so when they made difficult demands, I responded to those demands and regarded them (mostly) as things that I needed to do to make my life better.  Many of my students today seem to view me (in particular) as a person put in place to make their lives worse.

To make on more, final, observation, the top complain in all my classes is that they are too difficult and time consuming. This would seem to confirm that our students are prepared to resist the demands of course work. Perhaps the culture of resistance is the key to unpacking the meaning of our Princeton review rankings.

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