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As college year begins, too many are majoring in drinking and sex

September brings with it autumn, the return of football, cooler temperatures, and thousands of young adults to college campuses. Michigan’s state constitution insists that “Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

Don’t you believe it.

Michigan colleges and universities currently serve over 613,000 students, nearly half of whom are at four-year public schools and about a fifth of whom go to private ones. About three-fifths of those students will receive degrees.

Either way, they will take on debt. A recent report at CNNMoney claims that total debt per student averages over $35,000 – about $25,000 in student loans. For the 40 percent who don’t finish college the problem is even worse. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education they take on 50 percent more debt per credit hour than those who graduate.

The taxpayer is on the hook for a fair amount of the bill. The state of Michigan last year gave over $101 million in financial aid to students in the state. The governor’s budget earmarks $1.4 billion for spending in higher education to Michigan’s 119 colleges and universities, with $98.2 million set aside for grants.

Data provided by the Chronicle give one pause on whether this money is well spent. The average ACT score in Michigan is 20.1, a score that indicates someone probably doesn’t possess the native ability to succeed in college. Even among students who have the requisite intellect, there are reasons for concern. Sixty percent of college students spend less than five hours a week doing homework. Considering they spend about twelve hours a week in class, and average between six and eight hour of sleep, 109 hours a week are unaccounted for, or roughly 15 hours a day.

How is that time being spent? The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nearly four hours a day are spent on “sports and leisure” and three hours at work. “Other” occupies about 2.5 hours. A Harris survey indicates students watch an average of 2.5 hours of TV a day, and a Pew report noted extensive use of video games.

But perhaps the most distressing information related to student behavior involves the twin sirens of alcohol and sex. The Higher Education Research Institute does an annual survey of college students and asks how many times in the last two weeks they have consumed five or more drinks in a row. Less than half the students (44.7%) reported none, 3.4 percent said 10 or more, 6.8 percent said 6-9, and 16.8 percent said 3-5. The numbers become even more skewed if you factor out private religious colleges. State schools tend to be a sea of alcohol.

Excessive alcohol consumption hasn’t created the “hookup” culture, but it fuels it. A recent report from the American Psychological Association recorded 60-80 percent of college students claiming they had engaged in a hookup sexual encounter. The New York Times recently wrote a story about campus sex, quoting a young University of Pennsylvania student who said of the young man she repeatedly hooked up with: “’We don’t really like each other in person, sober … we literally can’t sit down and have coffee.’”

Donna Freitas’s book "The End of Sex" is a wide-ranging survey of the sexual practices of college students and a discussion of how the hookup culture creates pressures to engage in risky and emotionally damaging behavior. Previously, intimate relationships consummated in sex; now, sex may lead to intimacy, but there is a common understanding that no emotional connection ought to be made. These encounters often leave the participants feeling empty and helpless.

Politicians have worked hard to turn college into a middle and lower class entitlement. It’s a bad idea. Many young persons don’t have the intellectual capacity or self-discipline to succeed in college. Michigan’s constitution says nothing about the value of education to participation in the labor market. The fact is,  many jobs don’t require a college education, a fact that will be sorted out in time by the labor market.

Our colleges and universities have largely become subsidized holding pens of ennui and alienation, and increasing education spending does nothing to address the problem that many students are not there to study but to “explore” and learn about themselves. Until we rethink what college itself is, it’s worse than a waste of money: it’s a usurious, soul-destroying den of squalor.

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