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Homework and time expectations — high school vs. college

November 26, 2006, 3:28 pm

Athletes who go from high school to college sports never find it hard to understand that college work is harder than high school; but somehow students who make the same jump often don’t encounter the same understanding. Right Wing Nation has this article about the differences in expectations for homework between high school and college:

According to a study published by the Chronicle of Higher Education, 48% of faculty members expect students to do six or more hours of homework every week, while only 17% of secondary school teachers expected that much work. Fifty-five percent of secondary school teachers expected only three to five hours of homework a week, and a full 28% — that’s over a quarter — expected no homework to two hours of homework a week. [...]

May I humbly suggest that parents who think their kids get too much homework are, to say the least, misguided? Tell me, parents, what are your kids going to do when they get to the university, and are suddenly required to work outside of class for the first time in their lives? If you’re going to call me at the end of the semester and inform me that little Johnny should have gotten an A even if he didn’t do the work for the class, you’re in for a reality check if you think I care what you think.

Fortunately, I have never had a parent call me with that specific complaint — most of the parents of our students are the type who don’t put up with slacking — but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if I did. The current high school culture tends to push students in the direction of doing as much as possible, and when they get to college and try to do the same amount of stuff, they find it doesn’t fit.

The typical student taking, say, a 16-credit hour course load will be spending 16 hours a week in class and then another 32 studying outside the classroom. That 48-hour total is not only reasonable within the context of a normal life, it also mirrors exactly the kind of work commitment the student will have once s/he is out of college and in the workforce. Fitting it in is merely a matter of time management and getting one’s priorities straight. Which means it’s really only about priorities. Students who realize that they are, first and foremost, students — whose top priority is learning as much as one can in the limited amount of time they have in college — won’t have a problem fitting their lives around that 50-or-so hour block of time. The rest will find it impossible because the allure of everything that is not school will just be too great. You can read more about that in this earlier post.

In the case of students who must work 40+ hours per week in order to pay for college and everything else, I would say that these students need to count the cost before starting college. If spending 50+ hours per week, every week, on schoolwork simply cannot coexist with your life, then you really ought to consider putting off college until you’re in a financial situation that allows it. (However, I suspect a lot of students who “have” to work are merely trying to attain a lifestyle that is beyond their means, and a four-year personal moratorium on luxury items might go a long way in easing both the time and financial costs of college.)

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