Recreating Academic Rigor and Removing Blame from Students: A Faculty Responsibility

My mother who lives in Phoenix recently brought to my attention an article that appeared in the Arizona Republic on August 20 entitled, “College Education Needs Refocusing,” written by their columnist Robert Robb in the Opinion section. 

Very notable comments from the article include the following:

  • The average college student’s studying time has shrunk by 42% since 1961 from 24 to 14 hours per week, according to the American Enterprise Institute.
  • Today, students spend less than half of the time studying that colleges say is necessary to learn the material.
  • Perhaps administrators and faculty haven’t re-imposed the rigor hammer because they have a sweet thing going. They are continuously getting paid more to do less.
  • In economist Richard Vedder’s book, “Going Broke by Degree,” he comments that faculty members are teaching less and, except in the hard sciences, there is no evidence that it is being compensated with more or more useful research.

With shrinking studying time expended by students, the quality of undergraduate education being delivered today has been drastically reduced. Less time studying means less concept reinforcement, less intellectual advancement and potentially less real-world application that involves enhancing problem-solving skills.

I have a posting entitled “Motivating Students to Spend More Time on Weekly Homework” that supports that five to six hours of studying time per course per week is a reasonable expectation. If in 1961 students were studying 24 hours per week, and on average taking five classes, this computes to 4.8 hours of studying time per course per week which is very close to the five to six hours guideline I establish.

Looking to the Faculty not the Students to Re-create this Rigor

People look to today’s students as those to blame for less rigor being applied to their coursework.  However, the students are not the culprits; it’s the faculty and administrators that are in charge. If an employee in the workplace isn’t applying themselves properly, isn’t it the responsibility of an effective supervisor to create the motivation, guidance and structure to at least give the employee an opportunity to succeed?

So when it was mentioned above that “students spend less than half of the time studying that colleges say is necessary to learn the material,” the college administrators and faculty need to step up to the plate and make it happen. There is a common management and leadership saying “Inspect What You Expect.” Getting students to expend a greater amount of quality time requires professors creating more student accountability and structure.  Professors have great power and influence over students through grades and general motivational strategies.  Motivating and forcing students to commit a greater amount of time in studying in their respective classes is easily accomplished through the following:

So What’s The Problem With Faculty Creating Rigor Through The Stated Approaches Above?

Research, publishing, presentations and committee work are the priorities of the vast majority of today’s undergraduate faculty and graduate students.  Instructing students comes after the above priorities, which drive tenure, compensation and day-to-day departmental recognition. This shift away from time in teaching students has gradually shifted more and more throughout the decades.  I recently had a professor without any prodding state to me that the teaching component was about 25% of his total work effort.

This shift away from student activities receiving priority has resulted in most undergraduate faculty being unable to devote enough time to activities that can instantly recreate the necessary levels of academic rigor.  With only 25% of their efforts towards teaching students, faculty are generally not able to:

  • Develop and grade frequent (weekly) assignments.
  • Assign work on an individual basis.
  • Develop and grade application-oriented tests that are much more time consuming to administer. Instead using multiple choice questions are very popular as these tests can be automatically graded by a Scantron.
  • Develop new assignments and tests knowing that old ones are easily recoverable from prior courses.

Propelling Our Professors and Their Respective Administrators to Recreate Rigor

“You get out what you put in” is a common saying that has true relevance to the importance of recreating academic rigor. The benefits to the students are vital to our economic productivity in creating higher abilities among our graduates upon entering the workplace. In order to achieve this important objective, the academic community needs to both reprioritize student teaching time allocation to the top and adopt practical recommendations including: using frequent unannounced quizzes, increasing the frequency of assignments, requiring individual versus group work, constantly changing assignments and tests from semester to semester, and utilizing the crib sheets approach.

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