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I ran into a former student the other day. "How's life after college, Stu?" I asked.

"Terrible!" he replied. "CMU never prepared me for this."

"What's going on?" I inquired, trying to elicit some tidbit of information I could pass on to my students to better prepare them for the "real world."

"My boss expects me to come to work every day and be on time. What's worse, I have to put in at least 40 hours a week. Some weeks I have to work 50 or 60 hours and I don't get paid anything extra."

I was taken aback. "What did you expect?"

"I thought it would be more like college," Stu explained. "When I was at CMU I only went to class when I wanted and I almost never put in more than 25 hours a week."

"Do you know why college is called an institution of higher learning?" I asked him.

"Because that's where you learn what you need to get hired?" he ventured.

I shook my head in frustration. "I see why you got a B.S. degree. Look, higher learning means the stuff you have to learn in college is more advanced than the stuff you learned in high school. Just out of curiosity, how much time did you spend on schoolwork in high school?"

"About 35 hours a week -- 30 hours in school and about five hours doing homework."

"Tell me again how much time you spent on schoolwork in college?"

"Usually less than 25 hours a week."

"Doesn't that strike you as odd? Most people consider college to be more difficult than high school. And in my experience, the more difficult the material, the more time it takes to learn it. Yet you spent less time on schoolwork in college than you did in high school."

"Then why is 15 hours considered a full load? In high school I had 30 hours of classes and spent 5 hours on homework. In college I had 15 hours of classes and spent 10 hours on homework. Do the math, professor. I spent four times as much time on homework in college."

I was about to tell Stu that the rule of thumb in college is two hours of studying for every hour of class but then I realized he would reject such a viewpoint out-of-hand. After all, he had managed to graduate by studying less than 40 minutes for each hour of class. So I tried a different tack.

"In America, `full-time' usually means 40 hours per week. For example, you are a full-time employee and your boss expects you to work at least 40 hours a week. A student taking 15 hours of classes is considered a full-time student. Shouldn't a full-time student be expected to spend at least 40 hours a week on schoolwork?"

"Haven't you been hearing what President Plachta has been saying? At CMU students are customers, not employees. In my business, we charge our customers an hourly rate for our services. To remain competitive we have to increase our productivity by figuring out how to provide the same services in less time. You have to do the same thing -- figure out how to teach your students the same amount in less time. As you become more productive, the number of hours students will need to study outside of class will decrease until they won't have to study at all."

I could see there was no way I was going to change Stu's mind (a devastating blow to a lawyer's ego, I might add), so I switched topics. "What are your plans for the future?" I asked.

"I'm going to quit my job and go to graduate school," he said. "Having to be punctual and reliable and work 40 hours a week is for the birds. Oh, that reminds me. I'm meeting some buddies at the bar.* Want to come along?"

I was tempted. It sounded a lot better than going back to my office and grading exams. I just hate these tough decisions, don't you?


* Inside joke -- The Bird is a bar that is a popular student hangout.

Copyright 1999
David Guenther

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