Why are today’s univ students disengaged?

University professors and researchers call the phenomenon “student disengagement.” Which makes me wonder whether or not there a correlation between that issue and elementary and secondary “no-fail” policies? I mean, it has long been suspected that today’s university students do not have the same commitment to their schooling that their parents or grandparents had, but until now, few have asked why.

I have my suspicions of course, that the culprit is the education system’s trend away from any type of real competition at the elementary and secondary levels, combined with no-fail policies (e.g., such practices as not taking marks off an assignment for lateness or incompleteness or promoting or “transferring” a student to the next grade when a student is not ready).

I mean, you can’t give all children a medal or a ribbon for effort, or promote students when they haven’t earned that right, and then expect them to want to excel or be fully engaged in learning later in life.   

The blog “Ivory Tower Blues” is writing an historical series on this issue, which I will be writing about as they go along. To begin with, they discuss a report released last month from the National Bureau on Economic Research in Cambridge MA,  that found that students in the 1960’s treated university as a full-time job and put in an average of 40 hours a week, course time and studying combined compared to 27 hours in total now.

When thinking about 27 hours, remember that full-time university is usually five full courses of 6 hours each or the half-course equivalent (for a total of 30 hours for lectures, seminars and labs). Meaning, that 27 hours doesn’t even cover all the course time, let alone opportunities for studying and doing assignments.

So, as I suggested above, in my opinion, the disengagement so many post-secondary researchers are talking and writing about are simply symptomatic of the feel good, warm and fuzzy no-fail policies implemented by the various Western territorial, state and provincial governments over the past few decades. As a result, there just isn’t a commitment to excellence anymore and high school graduates have learned to expect “A’s” for a “C” effort or credits for little or no work.

Well, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the “minimum effort for maximum gain” expectation has moved into the universities. Whether they call it “no-fail” or disengagement, it definitely is a trend that does not bode well for the post-secondary students themselves or their future employers.

c/p Jack’s Newswatch.

6 thoughts on “Why are today’s univ students disengaged?

  1. I am a current university student (going into 3rd year). I am going to state my point of view. In the past you did not need a university education in order to get a good factory job or just a good job in general. Most jobs (from what I have heard from my elders) didn’t even need a high school diploma. Therefore, the small percentage of students that did go to university did so for the pursuit of knowledge. University students in the past wanted to go to university to learn. Now all the factory jobs are gone. University now, is merely a means to an ends to get a job so that one may live a decent life. University is no longer for the pursuit of knowledge, but the pursuit of a degree, which is needed to secure a good paying job. If no one needed to go to university (or college) to get a good job. I bet enrolment in post-secondary education would dramatically decrease. Some students just don’t want to go to school. Some students, like me, are interested in the material. However, I still hate writing essays, and studying for tests.

    Now the only connection I can see that no fail policies have to student disengagement is due to continual promotion increases high school graduation rate, which make a high school degrees useless in the job search since everyone has one. So people keep just trying keep on studying. Therefore, they will be more competitive in the job hunt, since they have more education.

    Now, Full-time student status is 3 – 5 full course equivalences. Most students only do 4 full course equivalences each year because they find doing 5 is too demanding. During second year, I think I averaged about 15 hours a week of Lectures, Tutorials and Labs even though I was doing 5 full course equivalences. *Note* I go to UofT SGC. Note that some tutorials were optional, so I usually skipped those. Also one of my professors cancelled about every other class. So often I had about 12 hours a week, especially if it was a non-lab week. Or I would have about 20 hours if it was a double lab week. Just because there is less in class time, doesn’t mean there is less homework. IMO there is so much readings (especially in the humanities). It’s nearly impossible to read them all in time.

    I feel that an average of 27 maybe accurate. Many students only do 4 full courses a year. Some have jobs. Some just slack off, because they don’t want to be there in the first place. Some students are just geniuses and can do nothing and ACE everything despite the university’s grade deflation methods. However, many of the more serious students spend every single day from about 7 – 9 am to 9-11 pm going to classes, commuting and doing homework. Personally I spend approximately 3 hours a day commuting and maybe 5 hours a week of watching TV (this excludes commercials since I tape everything, so I can fast-forward to save time). The rest of the time is spent doing homework, eating, sleeping, and other everyday activities.

    Now another reason for student disengagement is distractions. There are way too many distractions. Honestly, the hardest part I find about writing an essay are the distractions. I spend so much effort trying not to be distracted. Everything from food, to facebook, to tv, videogames and fresh air distracts me. I am not the only one. Everyone complains that they just cannot focus. If the homework just involves reading an article the distractions aren’t so noticeable because just reading something is usually kind of fun and doesn’t involve too much work.


  2. I just read that site you linked. Going to comment further.

    In my previous post I don’t think I made it clear enough (probably because it is 2 am and I am tired but I don’t want to go to bed), that because university is treated as an ends to a means more of the students that don’t care about school are just going because they have to. That attitude will lead to disengagement.

    From that article I have thought of another connection to no-fail policies. They were talking about how many students were just in university because they were rich and their parents wanted them to be there and they were fine with just C. I think because of no-fail policies and the fact that so many professional school require high GPA standards, students feel like they are entitled to As and Bs. When you get a C (especially in first year), you feel aweful and it is just a big slap in the face. You then get into a hissy fit as more Cs come in, and began to talk bad about your professor and your school and begin to get really mad at the university. This is because no-fail policies usually lead to some sort of grade inflations and the fact that your no longer get the marks you used to get is a horrible feeling and make you really depressed.

    In the article it also mentions that even student with and without part time jobs are increasingly putting in less effort. Well in part that is due to what I was just talking about with low grades. When you begin doing bad you figure why work so hard when your doing bad anyways. However, I think it may also because of what I was mentioning before about how many university students feel distracted.


  3. Thanks for the excellent and honest feedback Mike. I have to tell you though that the distractions you are talking about are just not for university students. When you get a full-time job, the same distractions will be there and you will have to tune them out or not get ahead.

    It has been a few years since I taught university, so I don’t know how distracting Facebook and video games can be. But, there has always been something.

    The issue with writing essays is that is what “scholarship” is all about. It will be similar in a job. You’ll be asked to think creatively and do this or that project for an employer. Sometimes there will be drudgery involved. Such is life. So, in a sense, being able to do a good job at coming up with a thesis statement and defending that statement with facts and sources tells your future employer a lot more about you than you think.

    Same with attending lectures and labs. Jobs have endless meetings, many boring.

    The bottom line is that getting an “A” is about work that is almost perfect, a “B” for above average work but perhaps with not quite enough sources or argument. A “C” believe it or not is supposed to be “average,” nothing special, but acceptable. So, when marks get inflated, they hurt everyone.

    While you didn’t mention it, the inflated grades also hurts the future employer. Because many want to hire people who have high marks. So, if the marks don’t really reflect the excellence they will expect from their new employee, the whole process falls apart.

    Anyway, I am pleased that you saw the connection between what is going on now in university and the no-fail policy. Look forward to hearing from you again.


  4. I was an undergraduate in the 60’s and made Animal House look dull; did a minimal amount of work and did indeed see school as simply a necessity to getting a good job. Out of 20 plus courses a third were “’engaging”, a third useful but boring, a third “Mickey Mouse”, a waste of time but necessary to get the diploma, to get the job, to pay off the student loans.

    Later in life I kicked myself for not treating University as a privilege and did take post graduate somewhat more seriously. Also, from day one, fortunately I enjoyed learning on the job because it was immediately relevant. Much later, in my 40’s, I started to actually enjoy learning outside the job. Possibly that’s because a lot of males don’t grow up until nearly 40 and perhaps that is an issue in today’s education where fewer males are going to University. But from what I’ve seen, kids today are much more responsible and serious about academics than my Boomer generation. But the opposite is true of teachers today.

    Our whole postmodern society cannot accept the notion of failure. We’ve allowed the myth that morals and cultures are equal, everthing is “equal”. They aren’t. Academic problems also stem from “too tenured to fail”, there needs to be a meritocracy in academia.

    Campus is dominated by groupthink, progressive Academics who are anti-capitalist and pro Global Warming redistribution religions. We need to privatize more of our Universities and charter more schools and basically have more competition. But the whole concept of tenure and union seniority is anti-competition. Tenure turned out to be the opposite to its original intention of encouraging thinking outside the box and not getting fired for it.


  5. Well said Nomdeblog. I didn’t even start university until I was 30. Maybe that is the issue. Maturity and willingness to work hard. I agree almost completely about tenure. However, having worked in a university I can tell you that sometimes academics really do need that protection, not only from their superiors but jealous catty peers as well. It’s a dog eat dog environment filled with far too many primadonnas and probably one of the most political environments there are on the planet.


  6. Sandy, I’ve also heard that kind of environment described by lawyers in big firms. But they don’t have tenure and if some primadonnas get too far out of line, the invisible hand of competition resolves the issue.

    But Academia is like the MSM, too dominated by progressives and like the MSM, Academia is being democratized by technology, e.g. your blog. The grip on mediocrity by the progressives is unsustainable; they will not be the gatekeepers for much longer.

    In academia they have managed to hold up their union numbers by spreading the myth (perpetrated by 2-way patronage between McGuinty and the teachers’ unions) that smaller class size and more money spent on teachers is the solution to better education. But the number one variable or driver to superior performance in the classroom is the quality and competence of the teacher. Currently in the US those going into teaching are from the bottom 1/3rd of University graduates, which needs to change to being the top quartile. Better investment in education is critical to our competitive edge in the global economy. What will change education quality by circumventing the union gatekeepers is technology.

    There are 38 states that now have cyber schools. Florida has the biggest one with 100,000 Students. With software and interactive cyber teaching, the best teachers can be in front of a lot more students than they could within traditional bricks and mortar schools. Those cyber teachers give parents direct feedback by email and telephone conversations. The results show SAT scores 97 points higher than average. As parents become aware of these results we’ll see a flood of change.

    With fewer teachers we can afford the best and pay them more, particularly at the entry level when current salaries are uncompetitive with other professions seeking the top quartile of quality and competence. But unions don’t want a meritocracy; they want quantity not quality. They want lots of members paying dues to the elitist union leaders.

    But like the MSM gatekeepers imploding with digital technology so will the traditional classroom implode. A new cyber model will replace the mediocre progressives brainwashing our kids with postmodern, anti-Western ideology. Moreover, our kids won’t be hearing “math is hard”. Instead they’ll be hearing from a better teacher that “I can teach you math”.


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