How College Students Spend Their Time: Sleep First, Class Later


Findings presented in the latest issue of Postsecondary Education Opportunity put a new twist on the adage “the harder you work, the luckier you get.” In fact, it may be true that the older you are, the harder you work.

The latest issue of the data-rich newsletter published monthly by higher education analyst Thomas G. Mortenson and his colleagues explores “Time Use of Full-Time College Students Ages 18 to 24 Years 2003 to 2009.” Using data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), the report finds 24-year olds spend and average of 3.6 hours per day during school months going to class and doing homework, compared with just 2.8 hours per day for 18-year old students. While older students spend more time then their younger counterparts in class and doing homework, the overall average for 18-24-year-olds is 3.3 hours, which begs the question for some: What are students doing at college?

According to ATUS results, full-time college students ages 18 to 24 spend the majority of their hours sleeping (9 hours per day), followed by 3.9 hours for education and 3.9 hours for leisure activities/sports. The “education” category encompasses class time, as well as outside time devoted to research and homework. Leisure activities include arts and entertainment, social events and relaxing. On average, 18-to-24-year-olds spend just one hour per day “eating and drinking,” and 0.8 hours per day “grooming,” including washing and dressing.

Results also varied by gender and race/ethnicity.

While men spend an average of 80 minutes more per day on leisure activities/sports than women do, women spend an average of 3.4 hours on education compared to 3.1 hours for men.

With respect to race and ethnicity, Asians averaged 4.7 hours per day on educational activities, the highest of the categories, followed by 3.4 hours for Hispanics, 3.2 hours for white students, and 3 hours for black students. When “educational activities” are dissected, according to the article, it appears that white students spend the least amount of time in the classroom, averaging about 1.6 hours per day.

The ATUS results have several implications: For one, they generate questions surrounding the purpose of the university. With the rise in distance learning, some argue that students who take courses online do not receive the same educational benefit as those students who physically attend classes. And as the numbers show, with students spending more time sleeping and engaged in social, athletic or leisure activities than in class and doing homework, distance learners may be missing out on “real” college life.

For a wealth of education data, subscribe to Postsecondary Education Opportunity.

Related Posts: Leading Indicator: New England’s Higher Education Economy by Thomas G. Mortenson

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