With another semester in full swing, most students have by now realized college coursework requires a lot of time outside of class. Devoting two hours of studying a week per unit is often cited, but this rule’s origin is far from simple, and following it can sometimes seem even more complicated.
How much time in the classroom equates to a degree? The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, formed in 1905 by steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie, set out to answer this question. According to their website, the Carnegie Foundation established a universal format of credit hours for all colleges to standardize the previously unorganized system.
Their reasoning, however, actually didn’t involve students at all, rather it was to regulate whether a professor receives pension.
Before this, the American University system varied wildly state-to state, and even city-to-city, making it difficult to judge how much work students and professors were doing compared to other schools. The Carnegie Foundation, trying to create this pension qualifying system for teachers, established this set rule in 1910: For a professor to receive pension, the school they taught at must require students to receive 120 hours of in-class instruction to earn a bachelor’s degree.
In addition to this in-class instruction, it was decided each student would be expected to devote two preparation hours of studying and homework outside of class for every hour of in-class instruction per week. This structure of hours in and out of class became known as the Carnegie Unit, and it is still used today.
So how does the Carnegie Unit translate to Cypress Students over a hundred years later?
To graduate with an associate’s degree from Cypress College in two years, a student needs to complete 15 units per semester. For one semester-long 3 unit class, a student would be expected to spend 6 hours per week outside of class doing homework and studying. That means the average student taking 15 units, according to the Carnegie Unit, is expected to spend 30 hours per week doing homework and studying, in addition to the 7 hours spent in the classroom.
The issue with this expectation is that many students work at least part-time while going to school, easily pushing their committed weekly hours from just school and work to over 50 or 60 hours per week.
Gregory Jones, an English major, admitted many days he struggles to find time to study due to his 12 unit course load and a busy work schedule. “Between working and going to class, sometimes my books don’t even leave my car,” he stated. Unfortunately, Jones is not the only student stressed under a hectic schedule.
More students than ever before are simply not taking as much credits per semester in community college to try and succeed under the intimidating schedule. According to the July 2014 Report from the Campaign for College Opportunity, the average time it took California students who graduated with an associate’s degree in 2013 was 4.1 years, twice as much as the expectation. This means they took an average of 7 units per semester, less than half of what the suggested course load should be according to the Carnegie Unit.
Andrew Han, a Nursing major, decided to take only one class this semester, a lab science course, to ensure he had enough time to achieve a good grade. Even with just this course, Andrew approximates he spends more than 12 hours per week outside of class studying, leaving one questioning whether it is even possible to take a full 15 unit course load and still study for each course.
So how can a student actually abide by the Carnegie Unit? Dr. Ron Armale, a physics and astronomy professor at Cypress College, stated it is definitely possible to devote two hours of outside studying per unit, but not without a lot of hard work and careful planning. Dr. Armale stated “Most students think they study enough” he said, “but if they mapped out exactly how much time they were actually doing it each week, they’d be surprised how little they do.”
He advises making a weekly schedule of school, work, and home responsibilities and plotting the exact times one plans to study around that. By making a study plan and sticking with it, a student can have a tangible way to see how much they are studying and how they can plan it around their other commitments.
And as for students blaming their stressful days and late nights on professors: “The teacher can’t feed you all the information in class,” Armale explained, “we give you little bites; you need to feed yourself the rest at home.”