The lyrics did typify most of my weekends freshman year – “Drink my beer and smoke my w*** but my good friends is all I need; Pass out at 3, wake up at 10, go out to eat then do it again. Oh, I love college!” For those of you who aren’t familiar, Asher Roth’s tune “I Love College” hit the charts in 2009 and was on everybody’s party playlist. We all turned it up during our parties, heckled as every other person screamed “This is my jam!” We played it in our frat houses, heard it at all the bars and in the car, and we would instinctively reminisce on our past or upcoming weekends. Yet, did you ever listen to all the words of that song? Roth gives us some insight: “I can’t tell you what I learned from school, but I could tell you a story or two, um, Yeah, of course I learned some rules, Like don’t pass out with your shoes on!” Brilliant in its rhyme and simplicity, and for many of us, the song catapulted our night of casual drinking into some serious boozing. The song brags and quantifies our modern American collegiate experience. However, in this day and age, what’s to come of our outrageous revelry?
Now please note, don’t think of this as an echoing anti-drinking campaign article; it isn’t. Let’s not waste time preaching abstinence, but let us pragmatically break down the imminent future. To start, the United States is still crawling out from the worst financial crisis in our history, seconded only by the Great Depression. The job market is still steadily lingering around 9 percent unemployment. The world is falling apart around us: from the tsunami bombardment and following nuclear disaster in Japan, to the ensuing violence and uprisings in the Middle East. Yet here we are, the generation of tomorrow, cozy and fortified by two masses of water, “living it up.” Nonetheless, how does the old saying go – you reap what you sow? It seems the real question is, with our society’s present values and our generation’s current culture, are we really destined to lead the world down this long road ahead? Or have we forgotten the principles of our American character?
These are the statistics, relevant to your lifestyle or not, that we are hereby illustrating as a whole. Just this past January, CBS reported these figures on their nightly news broadcast. As stated by Diane Sawyer during her evening program, “A study of more than 2,300 undergraduates found 45 percent of students show no significant improvement in the key measures of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing by the end of their sophomore years.” These findings were originally published by Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia. They sampled 24 schools and found some alarming realities. Put forth in their book, titled “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” both professors stipulated that “social engagement generally does not help student performance. Students who spent more time studying with peers showed diminishing growth and students who spent more time in the Greek system had decreased rates of learning, while activities such as working off campus, participating in campus clubs and volunteering did not impact learning” With the learning curve askew and the youth of the nation dragging its feet, what’s the price we’re going to pay? Probably around $70,000. College Board, an informational search engine devoted to colleges, shows that the average four-year private school tuition rate begins and is upwards of $35,000 per year. You’re probably thinking, so wait a minute, you mean to tell me I just spent $70,000 in two years for nothing? No, no! Not for nothing! The college director would tell you and your parents that it’s for the “experience.”
And what is the nature of the American college experience nowadays? It’s difficult to say, for like high school, university students are dually striving for a mix of academic and social excellence. With both school pressures and pressures from friends, which priorities are taking the front seat? In August of last year, Philip Babcock and Mindy Marks, both professors at the University of California, analyzed and compared the study habits of students from 1960 to modern day students, along the lines of time spent engaged in learning and studying. Through the incorporation of “time-use” surveys and longitudinal data, in 1961 “the average full-time student at a four-year college in the United States studied about 24 hours per week, while his modern counterpart puts in only 14 hours a week.” This data was based on information gathered from students between 2005 and 2009. Babcock and Marks suggest two explanations for this gap: vast improvements in educational technology, and the decline in academic standards.
Both professors agree that “term papers have certainly become less time-consuming to write with the advent of word processors, and […] the Internet,” but what of math and engineering majors who are more routinely calculating projects than writing essays? Babcock and Marks find these technological advances to have a low impact on promoting learning overall. Then unfortunately, does it really come down to falling standards? Multiple theories have been put forth. In an excerpt from Richard Hersch and John Merrow’s “Declining by Degrees,” David L. Kirp “emphasizes student empowerment vis-à-vis the university and argues that increased market pressures have caused colleges to cater to students’ desires for leisure.” In essence, the university is more aggressive in acquiring the bigger LCD than promoting a stronger degree. In the same book, Murray Sperber writes of the “perverse” incentives placed on university professors: that those “‘easier’ instructors receive higher student evaluations, and a given instructor in a given course receives higher ratings during terms when he or she requires less or grades more leniently.” The underlying reality: does your 4.0 reflect true intellect, or were you an avid RateMyProfessors.com user?
In the end, you’re probably wondering, what was I doing for those four years? Well here’s the scary part. According to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics, an American Time-Use Survey on full-time university students ranging from ages 15-49 showed that out of 24 hours, 8.3 were spent sleeping, 3.0 were working related (employment), 3.3 on educational activities and 3.6 on leisure and sports. The other hours were spent eating and drinking, grooming, traveling and other. Now break this down further; if you attend at least two regularly scheduled classes a day, that’s approximately two hours (if not more) taken out of that 3.3. Quintessentially, a student might, on average, spend one hour studying/doing homework a day. That is a one to four ratio for leisure activities in one day; therein a full-time college student will spend nearly one sixth of their day relaxing and enjoying themselves.
With the highest level of debt on record, coupled with the highest unemployment rate since the 1930s, and after four years spent and valued at almost $150,000, what is the poor, debt-laden American student to do when they graduate? Maybe Facebook will have the answer! Since apparently we spend 36 percent of our time “communicating and networking across social networks, blogs, personal e-mail and instant messaging.” Or let’s just listen to the Black Eyed Peas: “Fill up my cup, Mazel Tov … lets paint the town, we’ll shut it down, let’s burn the roof, and then we’ll do it again!” Again and again, and hopefully the market will pick up. Right?
Please don’t believe me to be bashing lifestyles or dissing artists that I actually listen to; I’m not worried about that stuff. What I am worried about is where this country will be in five to 10 years. Take a look around – we’re binge drinking ourselves down the funnel, and it’s only a matter of time until the keg’s tapped and all the Solo cups are gone. Our consumer-based lifestyles are tearing apart the environment. We’re seeing the worst weather on record, people are dying across the world and all we’re worried about is the royal wedding. Now please, take a deep breath, take a snapshot of your life, realize your slipups and let’s “love” college the right way, and be the change that Obama once talked so fondly about. Let’s move towards sustainability, renewable energy, clean living and health. And, to the person who shrugged after reading this: this article was for you.
Jonathan Keane is a junior majoring in accounting. He can be reached at [email protected].