Are students really going to university just to socialize?

Study that shows students learn little misses the point

It seems Canadian universities are paying closer attention to a study that came out of New York University a few weeks ago. The study argues that students aren’t going to university to learn anymore; they’re going there to socialize.

According to the report, students can spend less than half as many hours studying as they do socializing. The study seems to be making a statement that youth of today are unreliable and unruly, that they are less then the university graduates of a generation ago.

Todd Pettigrew has already pointed out that there is little reason to panic that the study’s finding would ring true in Canada. Recent comments from the vice-provost at the University of Western Ontario would back that statement up.

“For most things in life, you get out of something what you put into it,” John Doerksen said in Feb 3 press release. “It’s possible for students to find the easiest route to a diploma at the end of the day, but on the whole universities are serving populations well.”

Whenever you paint an entire population with the same brush, you risk painting some students the wrong colour. It’s a dangerous game to play. While the study found that “45 per cent of students made no significant improvement in critical thinking, reasoning or writing skills during the first two years, and 36 per cent showed no improvement after four years of schooling” more than half of students did make critical progress.

According to the study, students spent about 85 hours a week socializing or participating in extracurricular activities. Less than 40 hours per week were devoted to academics.

“This surprises me,” Doerksen continues. “From my own experience I would say that students are spending very significant amounts of time on their academic pursuits.”

Doerksen believes Canada’s post-secondary system is well-equipped to prepare students for the rest of their lives. “If a student wants to learn, there is an appropriate environment for that here,” he adds.

Taking away too much from a study that focuses on less than half of the students surveyed is a bad idea. Those students are perhaps not the best hiring choices for new companies, but the remaining 55 per cent of the student body are eager, learning and increasingly critically-minded people who will be the leaders of tomorrow.

By not showcasing the 55 per cent who are making a difference, the paper fails. If 45 per cent of students are not valuing lessons and skills learned in the classroom, they’ll hit their proverbial brick wall at some point. But lets not lose sight of the majority of students who are benefiting from post-secondary education.

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