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.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Sun, 09/29/2013 - 3:59am
Perhaps we've become too accepting of the saying 'you have to go to college to succeed'. Many students are pushed into college when they might be better suited for a career in the trades. As a result, they don't study as much as needed, and aren't enthused at all about the pablum they are being fed. They instead occupy their time with others who feel the same, and the partying is the result. Why aren't the trades an acceptable course? The trades have been pushed out of the country. A vicious cycle that illustrates why all great countries in recorded history have only existed about 200 years as a great country.
Sun, 09/29/2013 - 9:29am
Rich you are right on. The obsession people have with the necessity of going to a four year college is off target. Community colleges serve a very valuable starting place and for many an exiting place for there formal education. The debts are ridiculous and for many impossible to repay. Parents will shell out 10s of thousands of dollars for their kids to attend college over half never finishing or with a mostly dead end major but would never shell out 5 or 10 thousand dollars and start a business, or move to see the world, or go live with uncle Louie for a year and figure out what you want in life. Quit chasing dreams that don't fit you, or the world you live in. Experience the work world, job shadow, do an apprenticeship,volunteer. Then make those life changing decision that make a difference. Be what you can be, not just what you want to be.
Sun, 09/29/2013 - 9:55am
It is true that "Michigan’s constitution says nothing about the value of education to participation in the labor market." however, the constitution was not originally constructed under the auspices of the service economy. Perhaps an update to this document should be considered. The fact is, many jobs should not require a college education, but a college degree is required nonetheless. I grew up in a small rural community in northern Michigan, and the large factory that hires a large percent of the community requires a 2 year degree for their janitorial positions. Trade schools certainly are an acceptable alternative to more traditional forms of post-secondary education, but they are still indeed post-secondary education options that require student reliance on government grants and loans to support enrollment and completion. What is true is that educational attainment is a significant predictor of poverty. Those with a college degree are much less likely to live in poverty than those who don't. For those who come from the lower social classes, access to education is critical to upward mobility, and everyone deserves an opportunity to try. I graduated from high school with an ACT score of only 21, a score that was not reflective or predictive of my ability to be successful in college. A Score that was more reflective of the fact that I was first in my family to to to college, and came from a family that was not able to afford to send me to ACT preparation courses to prepare me adequately to take the exam. I graduated from a 4 year college with a GPA of 3.93 and went on to obtain a PhD, and now teach at one of Michigan's top ranked research 1 universities. Had I have been denied access to college due to my ACT score, or denied access to government subsidized loans, I would not have reached my full potential. The author of this article, although accepting an academic position at a faith-based institution, seems to not have faith in the student body he teaches within. If you don't believe in your students, how do you expect them to succeed? The largest predictor of resilience and success is having one adult in your life that is "irrationally crazy" about you, and is there to support you even if you make mistakes along the way. For many students who come from disconnected backgrounds, universities, and the instructors and staff employed within, provide another view of the world, an alternative to the often limited knowledge one can gain if they are not afforded the opportunity to explore an identity outside of one's community of origin.
Chuck Jordan
Sun, 09/29/2013 - 11:14am
Curious argument by a political science professor at a Christian College. I don't quite understand how excess drinking and sex at colleges conflates to cutting funds to middle and lower class students and guiding them into job training careers. I guess the drinking and sex is okay for the upper classes. I think I'll watch the Great Gatsby again. Better yet, let's make sure students graduate high school with the skills and motivation to succeed and then target them for funding. Let's do a better job at finding out who will be successful and support them. And yes of course we can confront the excess drinking and sex on college campuses, but do it directly and honestly.
Jean Rishel
Sun, 09/29/2013 - 12:16pm
I agree with @Chuck Jordan here. I am not sure how excess drinking and sex correlates with state funding of Higher Education. The freshman year tends to become the greatest equalizer in all Higher Ed. If a student is majoring in alcohol and sex...grades reflect that very quickly...and they do not do well. If they are failing...they are placed on probation at the Higher Ed schools. Basically, they must shape up--or they are gone. The late teens and early twenties are times of self-discovery, regardless of whether they are in school or not. I agree that excess drinking and sex on campus should be examined as a separate issue from education. I teach at Washtenaw Community College and am an alumni of U of M, Ann Arbor. In my experience, 99 % of my students, and the same for U of M students, are serious about their education. If they are not, they get out of the college experience very quickly. I am astounded at Jeffrey Polet's closing statement about "his" college. I have not found this to be the case where I teach. " Ennui? Dens of squalor?" How discouraging that must be! Do not include my students in this description! WCC is known for transferring students going to U of M and EMU and being very successful while there. This is where the Higher Ed budget matters. Many of our students would not be able to do it totally on their own.
William Harris
Sun, 09/29/2013 - 12:26pm
I suppose that we are all supposed to break out and sing, "Kids! What's the matter with kids today..." The selective reporting of national numbers and of averages does little to make the presumable case that Michigan is spending too much on kids. Are colleges letting in students with average 20 ACT? Not very likely. But this is understandable, given that every HS student must take the ACT. With that universe, of course the average skews lower. One would expect that. Then there is the concern about binge drinking ((the argument being that kids don't deserve the college). While the professor quotes the nominal numbers, we miss the trends. In the HERI report Polet cites, drinking is actually down at colleges. Also, same with sex. Other studies have pointed to hook-up culture as being predominantly the behavior at elite colleges (this was certainly the case in the NYT article cited). And remembering that this is a national survey, we may also ask if drinking clumps by region of the country. In short, by cherry picking his data points, Dr. Polet leaves us still in the dark, guided by ideologues. In short, there may be trouble out there, but if there is it certainly needs better numbers before we get too upset.
Sun, 09/29/2013 - 1:49pm
I wonder if this is just the natural progression of the K-12 educational process. Have the colleges/univserities become so preoccupied with recruiting students so they can increase their revenues that the value of the education these kids recieve is not something they want to be held accountable for? Are we seeing the college degree being devalued just as we have watch the high school diploma become devalued? Are we watching the lack of interest in the K-12 education in teaching life skills playout in the 'partying' of college students? Are we watching the lack of understanding of debt and its consequences by students create life time burdens for those students? Are we watching the loss of interest in education in high school continue into college? Are we watching the faculties of colleges/universities becoming insulated from the student by the schools prioritization of increasing revnues thus increasing enrollments? If a student is spending less time on academic efforts than they did in high school (classroom and studying) and more time on 'partying' then I think everyone should be questioning if colleges/universities are providing academic value to their students.
Sun, 09/29/2013 - 9:39pm
It's degree inflation being fed by our stupid politicians (think about Grahnholm and Obama ringing their hands about not enough bachelor degrees) and their pouring funds into the higher Ed industry! MBAs will be required to be assistant department managers at Walgreens. What would our unemployment rate look like without it!
Mon, 09/30/2013 - 11:00pm
Matt, It is sad to say, but true the politicians you mention and too many others are so pre-occupied with self engrandizement through their claims of support for education they have lost sight of what education means and what is should be providing they have created a system that about numbers and headlines and less about educating students and preparing them to succeed in our communities.
Mon, 09/30/2013 - 9:22am
People have been writing this column in some form of English since Oxford University opened its college doors 800 or 900 years ago. I am sure they were writing it in latin and greek for even longer before that. Please, get over yourself! And if you want to complain about kids not having enough homework, look at your own part the academy if you please. My daughter is an engineering student, and trust me, she is doing a lot more than 5 hours of homework per week - try 5 hours per day. Maybe you should get after the liberal arts folks to make life a little harder for their students too, instead of getting after the students - but then you would have to grade all that homework. So, who are you worried about the students, or the amount of work you have to do? Heal thyself doctor (PhD)!