US survey shows a cohort of slackers

November 26, 2004

An annual survey of American university students has found that only one in ten consider themselves politically active, half rely on television instead of newspapers as their primary source of news and about a quarter never attend cultural events, writes Jon Marcus.

The purpose of the National Survey of Student Engagement, which was conducted before the presidential campaign, is to help the 472 universities that participate identify what more they need to do to encourage their students to become more involved in civic life and their in own education.

The research also found that students spend just about as many hours socialising as they do studying. Only 11 per cent spend more than 25 hours a week preparing for class, the amount of time faculty say they expect.

About a third of the 163,000 undergraduates questioned take part in spiritual ceremonies or meetings, while more than 40 per cent said they never do.

Only 10 per cent have ever organised a petition or volunteered for a political campaign, and 37 per cent said they had never voted.

Thomas Ehrlich, senior scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and a member of the survey's advisory board, called the findings "troubling".

The survey sprang from dissension among universities over the US version of league tables: the powerful annual rankings calculated by the magazine US News and World Report .

Based at the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, the survey is meant to give universities a way to find better methods to measure their successes and failures than the standardised test scores and other statistics used by US News .

While universities are not ranked, they are scored in categories such as academic challenge, and their scores can be compared with the national average.

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