College and University Blog

New Research Shows that Today’s College Students Are Studying Less

Wondering how much time you should spend studying for your college classes? Some classes will be easier for you than others, but a good rule of thumb is to study two to three hours per credit hour per week. Slightly confusing, I know, so let’s break it down a bit: if you’re taking 15 credit hours this semester, you should expect to spend 30 to 45 hours studying each week.

That’s a lot of time, especially when you add in the time you actually spend sitting in class, but the two-to-three hour suggestion is pretty common. You’ll find it on a lot of websites, in a lot of books, and hear it from a lot of professors. The College Board even suggests that you should “think of college as a full-time job, in which you spend about 40 hours a week on class, labs, section meetings, and study groups, and doing homework.”

How Much do Today’s College Students Actually Study?

So the Big Question is: do students really spend that much time studying? No way, at least according to new research performed by two California economics professors.

According to Leisure College USA, a newly released study performed by professors Philip Babcock at the University of California Santa Barbara and Mindy Marks at the University of California Riverside, the average student at a four-year college in 1961 studied about 24 hours a week. Today’s average student hits the books for just 14 hours.

The Boston Globe explains that Babcock and Marks found that students of all demographics are affected. No matter the student’s major, gender, or race, no matter the size of the school or the quality of the SAT scores of the people enrolled there, the results are the same: Students of all ability levels are studying less.

“It’s not just limited to bad schools,” Babcock said. “We’re seeing it at liberal arts colleges, doctoral research colleges, masters’ colleges. Every different type, every different size. It’s just across the spectrum. It’s very robust. This is just a huge change in every category.”

Babcock and Marks’ findings are going to be published in the Review of Economics and Statistics but many people are wondering if college students ever studied as much as they “should” be studying. If a college student honestly spent 30 to 45 hours a week studying —as I mentioned as an example at the beginning of this blog—they’d probably be living at the library.

Don’t Blame Facebook for a Decline in Studying

Plenty of people are already rushing to the conclusion that this sudden drop in time spent studying is due to the availability of technological gadgets and the mass media, including social media outlets such as Facebook, but Babcock and Marks actually found that study time declined about eight hours per week between 1961 and 1981, about two hours per week between 1988 and 2004—long before Facebook came into play.

Back in November 2008, the USA Today reported findings from a survey performed by National Survey of Student Engagement. The results back in 2008? About 20% of college students – the study involved 380,000 randomly selected freshmen and seniors at 722 four-year colleges—said they frequently come to class without completing readings or assignments, and many of those students said that they mostly earn A’s.

So Why Are Students Studying Less These Days?

Lynn O’Shaughnessy posted a list of 5 suggested reasons why college students are studying less these days over on CBS Money Watch and I’m going to share them with you here.

  • Professors fear student evaluations.
  • Technology makes it easier to do homework.
  • College grades aren’t as important anymore.
  • Schools are dropping language requirements.
  • Professors are preoccupied with research.

Babcock and Marks, the professors behind the new study, acknowledge that students are working more and campuses are attracting students who wouldn’t have bothered attending college a generation ago, but study times are dropping for everyone regardless of employment or personal characteristics.

“It’s pretty shocking,” said Marks.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.