First, it shows that Engineering students study more on average now (well, as of 10 years ago, but one presumes it's about the same now) than other majors, though it used to be Health students that studied the most. Second, it shows that students now (again, as of 10 years ago), like all majors study much less than 40 years before. In particular, it shows that engineering students study on average about 18 hours a week outside of classes, where before they studied about 26 hours a week.
In the author's own words:
Using multiple datasets from different time periods, we document declines in academic time investment by full-time college students in the United States between 1961 and 2003. Full-time students allocated 40 hours per week toward class and studying in 1961, whereas by 2003 they were investing about 27 hours per week. Declines were extremely broad-based, and are not easily accounted for by framing effects, work or major choices, or compositional changes in students or schools. We conclude that there have been substantial changes over time in the quantity or manner of human capital production on college campuses.
This is really a quite stunning and fascinating finding. Whatever accounts for this difference? Are students simply smarter than before? Do the reduced numbers of hours they study indicate greater learning efficiency (because of better textbooks, better teaching, new instructional media)? Are there simply more distractions that prey on students' time (such as video games and the world wide web, which was just starting to take off then; I'm very curious to see what the numbers look like today, with the added distractions of facebook, twitter, mobile devices)? Is it that more students are working part-time to pay for increasing tuition costs? Is it because there are more older students that are working full-time taking continuing education classes ? Is the average reflective of an increase in overall numbers of departments where the study expectations are lower?
Whatever the cause, I've certainly heard several colleagues who have been teaching engineering for two or more decades complain that students these days don't study as hard and with as much discipline as they used to, whine more about grades than they used to, and in particular, are not as strong mathematically as they used to be. These data seem to suggest that they're not just being cranky.
And what are the implications of this study? Are we being forced to lower our expectations of what college students should be able to do, or handle? Instead of being smarter, do our graduates today actually have fewer skills and abilities than those of yesteryears? How has this affected the economy?
What do you think?