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How Much Studying Do College Students Do?

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As a faculty member at the University of Oregon I taught a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate students. There was a “rule of thumb” that undergraduates were expected to spend two hours of time studying outside of class for each hour in class, and that graduate students were expected to spend three hours outside of class for each hour in class. The rules of thumb were in reference to courses that had one hour of class meeting per week for each hour of credit in the course.

Over my years of teaching, I gradually became suspicious that many students were not paying much attention to such guidelines. When my wife’s daughter began attending the University of Oregon a little over 15 years ago, she reported that her undergraduate peers seemed to be doing about one hour of work outside of class for each hour in class.

It was, of course, obvious to me that some students were doing much more than this. The same situation seemed to exist at the graduate level. While some students were working much more than three hours outside of class for each hour in class, some were working much much less.

Recently I read "A Little Shame Goes a Long Way" by Jonathan Zimmerman. His focus is mainly on a study that indicates undergraduate students are not making much progress in improving their reasoning and writing skills. (But, stay tuned to this station for some news relevant to the paragraphs given above!) Quoting from the article:

The cat is finally out of the bag about what our students are learning, and it isn't pretty. It's more like a dog, or maybe a pig. A warthog, even.

I'm talking about the much-discussed book, Academically Adrift, by my New York University colleague Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia, which demonstrates that nearly half of college undergraduates don't significantly improve their reasoning or writing skills over the first two years of college. After four years, subsequent analysis showed, more than one-third of all students showed no significant gains in these skills (2/13/2011). (The book is available at

This conclusion is drawn from a study of 2,300 students at 24 different higher education institutions.

Continuing now to Zimmerman's paragraph that really caught my attention:

So we really do know what works and what doesn't. College students now spend about 12 hours a week studying, (see on average, and more than one-third report studying less than five hours per week. If we want them to learn more, we'll have to ask more of them—and of ourselves (2/13/2011). [Bold added for emphasis.] Also see (Glen, 1/18/2011).

Mary Bart also commented on the Academically Adrift study (Bart, 4/11/2011):

When it comes to college students and studying, the general rule most first-year students hear goes something like this. “For every one credit hour in which you enroll, you will spend approximately two to three hours outside of class studying and working on assignments for the course.” For a full-time student carrying 12 credits that equals at least 24 hours of studying per week.

Now, thinking about your students, how many hours do you think they spend studying each week?

According to the latest research, on average, today’s college students typically spend only between 12 and 14 hours per week studying.

The research comes from the Social Science Research Council’s Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) Longitudinal Project, which tracked 2,300 students at 24 universities over the course of four years, starting in 2005. The project was directed by Richard Arum, PhD and Josipa Roksa PhD; their book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (University of Chicago Press) is based on the first wave of the study (Bart, 4/11/2011).

Let's see now. In a typical undergraduate degree program, a student must average 15½ credits a term to graduate in four years. I don’t know the details about the course loads the students in this study were taking. However, my conjecture is that on average the students were not studying even one hour outside of class for each hour in class. That is less than half the widely recommended two hours outside of class for each hour in class.

Final Remarks

In my opinion, this situation is atrocious and I find it disheartening.  However, I know that this is not an “across the board” atrociousness. Some departments within an institution set much higher requirements and standards than others. Some institutions set much high standards and requirements than others. As an aside, there has been considerable grade inflation in some departments and in some institutions over the years. This just compounds my unhappiness with the situation.

I would like to see a great many Comments from my fellow college teachers. What is it like in your institution, and has the situation changed significantly over the years?

What You Can Do

The gradual decrease  in average number of hours studied outside of class for each higher education academic credit varies tremendously among different disciplines of study and courses within a discipline. It also varies with the quality of the institution. However, I agree with the various people cited above that a great many students are now studying only about half as much time outside of class per week as did students when I was an undergraduate many many years ago.

Think back to your own college days. What were your study habits and those of your fellow students?  For those of you who teach in higher education, what are the study habits of your current students? What do you do to measure the amount of time and effort they are putting in outside of class, and what do you do to measure this work?

Suggested Readings from IAE and Other Publications

You can use Google to search all of the IAE publications. Click here to begin. Then click in the IAE Search box that is provided, insert your search terms, and click on the Search button.

Click here to search the entire collection of IAE Blog entries.

Here are some examples of publications that might interest you.

A game changer in higher education. See

Deep insights into problems with our educational system. See

Each of us can help improve education. See

Purposes of education. See

We can improve education. Part 1: Asking the right questions. See


Bart, M. (4/11/2011). What can be done to boost academic rigor? Faculty Focus. Retrieved 4/11/2011 from

Glen, D. (1/18/2011). New Book Lays Failure to Learn on Colleges' Doorsteps. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 2/24/2011 from

Zimmerman, J. (2/13/2011). A little shame goes a long way. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 2/24/2011 from







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  • David Moursund Wednesday, 12 June 2013

    Credit definition

    Written by Richard Claycombe, July 11, 2011.

    I took interest in this issue when the Dept of Ed said that colleges had to define their credits. Maybe the interest is mainly in what defines an online course, but there is also substantial variation in contact time for traditional classrooms. My school reduced contact time about fifteen years ago with the pretense that more work would be done outside of class. As you have noted, NSSE has shown that most students don't come close to the Carnegie standard, much less doing more than that and Arum and Roska have a whole book about these issues. I found the initiative to scan the class schedules of the US News top 125 (liberal arts) schools and found that about a third of these schools don't come close to requiring a 50 minute hour of contact time per credit. They give 4 credits where they should give 3. My school is in between, we have 60 minute class hours, so we're only 20 minutes light per week. I hope that the Ed Dept demands will move higher education back toward the day when more time was spent teaching and studying.

  • David Moursund Wednesday, 12 June 2013

    Education as a "competitive game" between students and faculty

    Written by Dave Moursund, February 24, 2011.

    I know that many students are in school because they are strongly motivated to want to learn. They work hard and they do their best to learn the material and to get their money's work out of their higher education academic program of study.

    However, many others think the main purpose of college is to get a degree and not expend too much effort in the process. The articles cited suggest that faculty members carry much of the blame for the situation of many students not doing as much work as we (the faculty) would like, and blame for the growing grade inflation.

    I view the situation as a game of students versus faculty, and that the students are winning (the game) and losing (in getting a good education).

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