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Earlier this week I wrote a short piece about the impact of mockery and stigma on kids' beliefs that contained the following observation about modern college life:
The idea of college as mounting a comprehensive intellectual challenge to conservatism, especially conservative Christianity, is largely outdated. The modern college isn't a terribly intellectual place, featuring dumbed-down courses, far more time spent partying than studying, and legions of stressed-out adjuncts and graduate students (rather than the classic liberal intellect seen in movies and television) doing most of the actual teaching. In other words, when it comes to the life of the mind, there's not much to most contemporary universities.
A number of commenters (particularly on my Patheos blog) took exception to my summary of college life. One commenter was particularly upset:
As an evangelical who happily toils at a secular university, I can tell you that this blog post is the most negative, unrealistic caricature of a college campus that I've ever seen. It represents the crazed fever dream of the fearful cultural conservative. It tells you the whole place is teeming with liberalism, when in fact (at your typical large, diverse school) the College of Business is extremely conservative and pro-free market, the College of Health is filled with nice Christian kids who want to be nurses and physical therapists and avoid politics, and the College of Engineering is filled with kids who would rather tinker with robots and computers than go to keggers. There are lefty kids and profs in the Art department, but even those people are nice, and worthy of our kindness. But wow, overall, this piece is absurdly mean-spirited and dripping with contempt. No wonder conservatives have a generational gap, when they use this kind of rhetoric.
I'm happy for his positive experience, but as an academic he should know that his personal anecdote is virtually useless as a summary of modern college life, featuring millions of students partying away at hundreds of universities. So, in response, I thought I'd post some salient research that shows what, exactly, our kids are getting in exchange for your life's savings:
1. Students study much less than they used to. In 1961, the average student studied 24 hours per week. Now, it's just 14.
2. Students study less than they party. They spend more than three times as much time socializing and partying than they spend in class and studying combined.
3. When they party, many do so through decadent and dangerous binge drinking. Up to 44 percent of all college students binge drink, a practice that is not only dangerous on its own terms but also contributes to injuries and a culture of sexual assault that renders a college campus one of the riskiest environments for women in the United States. In fact, with attention focused on the military's problems with sexual assault, commentators have largely ignored the reality that college is more dangerous.
4. When students are in class, they're exposed to very little intellectual diversity. Conservatives are decided minorities in every discipline (insignificant minorities in the social sciences) and even in the alleged "extremely conservative" business schools, the percentage of Democrats outweighs the percentage of Republicans by 14 points (in social sciences, Democrats are 55.7 percent of the faculty and Republicans a mere 6.6 percent).
5. If you're Evangelical, the odds are good your professor won't like you. An Institute for Jewish and Community Research survey of 1,200 college professors found that 53 percent expressed "unfavorable" feelings towards Evangelicals.
6. Unsurprisingly, given the scant studying, hard partying, ideological monoculture, students often learn little in college. "After two years in college, 45 percent of students showed no significant gains in learning; after four years, 36 percent showed little change."
7. They are, however, learning to be more liberal – especially on social issues - and less engaged in church. The number of students who "never" attend church increases from 20.2 percent to 37.5 percent from their freshman to junior year, while the number who "frequently" attend drops from 43.7 percent to 25.4 percent. At the same time, students increasingly self-identify as liberal and pro-choice.
Each of the above statements is based not on anecdotes but on studies, often by left-leaning organizations, tracking the actual habits and attitudes of students and professors. Of course there are many students who attend college and have a positive experience and leave either more committed to their faith and beliefs or at least relatively unfazed (for example, my Harvard Law School experiences made me more conservative and more committed to my faith), but the data show that college students as a whole experience very little intellectual diversity, study less then they used to, party extensively, and leave school with less attachment to religion and conservatism than they had when they entered.
Alumni may wish this wasn't true, and well-meaning lefty Evangelicals may deny that it's true, but it is, and it's a reality that parents must confront as they prepare their kids for adulthood.