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Opinion | Studying is more expensive: A fresh look at the economic side to building a resume

By Kaitlyn Foye
On April 14, 2014

College students today spend, on average, less time on homework and studying than students of generations before them, according to recent research: 15 hours weekly versus 24 hours, respectively. This 40 percent decrease is often attributed to the belief that college has become "too easy," but there is a more important issue behind the matter: the concept of opportunity cost.

In economics, opportunity cost is defined as the cost foregone by not choosing the next best option. Therefore, the opportunity cost of studying for one hour is not only an hour of burden and anguish, for some, but also an hour of utility, or satisfaction, given up by not doing something seemingly more productive. The decrease in time spent studying by college students can be explained by economic cost, which over time, has increased relative to other activities.

One important statistic to look at when considering time allocation of college students is the number of full-time students who are also employed. Since 1970, the proportion of "traditional," ages 16-24, full-time college students who are employed has steadily risen from less than 35 percent to about 50 percent.

In the case of paid work, the economic, or opportunity cost, of studying is not only time spent being bored but also the wage given up by not working. Essentially, at least in an economic way of thinking, one actually loses money when he or she studies - something many might consider a lose-lose situation.

A more important factor to note is students' involvement in extracurricular and co-curricular organizations. With over 40 percent of people ages 18-24, attending college today versus the roughly 25 percent nearly 50 years ago, college attendance has become much more of a societal norm today than it has been in the past.

This overall increase in attendance has also increased the number of distractions on campus with more organizations to accommodate the growing student body.

As the number of student organizations has grown, so has student involvement. There is no doubt that the job market in recent years has been subpar, and because of the state of the economy, undergraduates find it increasingly important to stand out in ways other than grades, which are no longer enough. Rather, students today are told they must be involved and well rounded. From an economic standpoint, this matter can be viewed by looking at study time and involvement time as substitutes for the "production" of building a resume and ultimately landing a successful job out of college.

Over the years, the productivity of each input has shifted; involvement in extracurriculars has become more productive relative to studying, therefore making studying relatively more costly. And since the two are substitutes, as the cost of studying goes up, students, who are assumed to react rationally, will shift their time allocation from studying to involvement.

By looking at the various ways students allocate their time, it becomes evident that, although students spend less time studying, they are spending time on things they view as equally, if not more, productive.

Ultimately, if students act rationally, a basic assumption of economics, they will be acting in their best interests no matter how they choose to spend their limited time. The significance? Maybe mom was wrong when she said you have to study hard to get a good job after college, but you didn't hear that from me.

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