A new standard for excellence

Why the teacher-recommended workload is unrealistic

Maggie Curran, Opinion Editor

The first day of class, no matter what course you are taking, is typically the same for everyone. You review a syllabus. You participate in an uncomfortable icebreaker activity. You are reminded that plagiarism will not be tolerated. And many instructors tell you that for every credit hour, three hours of outside work is expected of every student. This is, for lack of a better word, completely unrealistic.

I have heard this same statement from professors multiple times throughout my three semesters here at College of DuPage, but I only now realized how menacing that phrase really sounds. Three hours of work for every credit hour seemed insane to me, so I did the math: I currently take five classes, each worth three credits. That means I spend roughly 15 hours every week physically in class. For each of those hours, professors expect that I spend an additional three hours doing assignments or studying. That makes 45 hours of homework. Factor in a healthy 8 hours of sleep every night, 10 weekly hours of working at my outside job, and 19 hours for eating and commuting, that leaves only 23 hours left of an 168-hour week, or about three hours per day to myself. This amount gets even lower for students that work more hours at part-time or full time jobs, and worse still if they have other responsibilities on top of that, such as volunteer work or family obligations.

A schedule that demanding would be incredibly stressful and unhealthy for any student. COD students are working at a college level and therefore should be responsible with their time and prioritize school before going out with friends or watching a movie. That much is true on any college campus. However, having about three hours per day to oneself is not enough, especially when this time must include things like taking a shower and getting dressed. Yet if students like myself were to do the teacher-recommended workload, this is exactly what they would be facing.

I understand where professors are coming from; they’ve worked hard to achieve their status and because of that, know the true value of what they offer in their courses. They want students to get the most out of their education and ensure that everyone does well in their class. The problem is that many professors don’t understand where students are coming from. Of course, every class is important. Of course, students should try their hardest and put in work outside of the classroom. However, setting an unrealistic standard of effort doesn’t ensure achievement; in fact, it can do the exact opposite. Instead, students might realize that between work, school, and a healthy social life, they would never possibly be able to accomplish the recommended workload. This result could be a drop in motivation as well as anxiety, stress, and possibly even failure. I feel lucky that this downwards spiral hasn’t happened to me.

Instead of following some of my professors’ instructions, I listened to my own intuition. I like to consider myself an accomplished student, however, I don’t think I have ever spent 45 hours per week on homework. I try my best, finish my assignments on time, always attend class, and study vigorously for exams and quizzes. I never take my education lightly, but I recognize the difference between working hard and overworking myself. I know that if I put in the effort to focus during class and understand the material, spending excess time on schoolwork outside of class would only leave me frustrated and stressed.

Unfortunately, many students don’t have the same confidence in their ability as I do. These students hear professors say “three hours of work per credit hour” and immediately doubt that they will ever succeed in their courses. Some may even try to accomplish this workload, but for obvious reasons cannot keep up with such a demanding schedule and either cut down on sleep, quit their jobs, or have nonexistent social lives. None of these options are acceptable. For this reason, it is important for professors to set realistic, achievable, and honest expectations for students to follow. Instead of telling students an exact number of hours they should be spending on schoolwork, professors should tell them exactly what is expected of them on assignments using rubrics or other methods. This is a concrete way to show students that effort is required without setting a timeframe that a diverse group of students could never fit into. For the mental health, education, and social life of every student, it’s time to set new standards for excellence.