Smart SpendingSmart Spending

Are today's college students shiftless?

Well, they are studying less and taking longer to graduate, but that doesn't mean they're lazy.

By doubleace May 24, 2011 12:44PM

This post comes from Lynn Mucken at MSN Money.


If you are a parent staring -- and shuddering -- at the cost of putting your kid through college, you pretty much know the numbers: $7,605 a year average in tuition and fees for an in-state public college ($11,990 out of state) and $27,293 for a private nonprofit college.

Over the past 25 years, college tuition and fees have climbed three times as fast as individual family income, according to the nonprofit College Board, the organization that conducts the dreaded SATs. Tuition has increased over the past decade at a rate of 5.6% per year beyond the rate of general inflation. Add in housing, food, books and the necessities of college life, and the figure can be staggering.

Now more bad news: Once in college, that daughter or son will study less than you did, and take longer to graduate.


"How can that be," you wonder aloud. "I spent my weekends drinking beer and chasing girls, most of the evenings playing cards in the student union, and I still got out in four years."


All that may be true, but still, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, class and study time has dropped 32.5%, from 40 hours a week to 27, since 1961. Post continues after video.

The Economix blog in The New York Times suggests this drop-off can largely be attributed to finances, citing a Rutgers Universitystudy (.pdf file) showing that 23% of those who graduated between 2006 and 2010 worked full and also perhaps part time during college and another 60% worked part time, not including jobs held during the summer or on school breaks.

"Based on the finding that young people overwhelmingly were working in college, I don't think this is a generation of slackers," Carl Van Horn, a labor economist and co-author of the study, told Economix. "This image of the kid who goes off and skis in Colorado, I don't think that's the correct image. Today's young people are very focused on trying to work hard and to get ahead."

So, how do the working-student numbers jibe with a fact reported in another Economix post: Even among students who continuously attend college full time, 45% take longer than four years to graduate.

This equation doesn't balance. If students have to struggle financially to pay for college, why would they add another year of expenses?

One explanation, that today's student is putting off graduation because of a lousy job market, doesn't answer the question. Research shows the four-year graduation rate has dropped steadily -- good times or bad -- over the past few decades.

Overwork can't be the problem. At most colleges, you have to average 15 credit hours a term or semester to graduate in four years. That is not an overwhelming class load. Yet, more than half the students appear to be taking the minimum necessary to be classified as a full-time student: 12 hours. Think of it this way: four hours of class on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; no classes on Tuesday, Thursday and weekends. Nice. 

Judith Scott-Clayton, the Columbia University assistant professor who authored the blog post, comes to the conclusion that, "At least anecdotally, taking five years for a four-year degree has become an accepted norm on many campuses among both students and administrators."

An Economix reader, "Arthur from Georgia," writes: "The entire 'life course' has evolved due to our increased longevity. Adolescence, for example, is a relatively recent construction in the grand scheme of things, for we never had that type of transition period into adulthood in centuries past. Anyone who clings to these arbitrary markers -- ages 18, 65, etc. -- is clinging to false securities that are outdated for our times."


In those words may lie the explanation. Americans are marrying later, buying homes later, having children later, living longer. Why not graduate later?

As the statistics on working students show, they are not lazy. They're just not in a big hurry.

More on MSN Money:
May 26, 2011 9:42AM
If only Lynn Mucken of MSN Money had died in a car accident, I wouldn't have to try to explain to my children why some mutton-heads think high gas prices are good for America. What an idiot!
May 24, 2011 5:29PM
The problem with using credit hours as a criterion is that you may have classes that are worth none, or next to none, that take up a disproportionate amount of time and effort -- I know I did.
May 26, 2011 3:40PM
This writter needs to consider killing themselves.  Read the article on why gas prices at 5 dollars would be a good thing, And then consider why this moron has a job. 
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.