Survey Says

by Chris Talamo | 11/17/10 11:00pm

If there is one thing that Dartmouth students are great at, it's knowing how to complain, loudly and often. Not that we're at any loss for things to complain about. We have cold winters, a sometimes unresponsive administration and an endless stream of pointless domestic drama. One fairly constant refrain that seems harder to justify, however, is that the quarter system is somehow more difficult than a semester system. The D-Plan, it is said, compresses semester courses and students' workloads rise accordingly.

Now, I find this entire notion beyond absurd. In fact, most weeks, I find that class work is the lowest priority and smallest commitment I have. Therefore, when it comes to comparing the number of hours worked and difficulty of classes taken, I highly suspect that Dartmouth students have simply been blowing their workload out of proportion in their complaints. So I decided to do what any normal person would do, and retrieve the data I lacked.

Taking a page from the endlessly annoying stream of class survey requests that accompany the end of any term, I decided to send out a survey to friends at Dartmouth and at other institutions asking very simple questions: how many hours are you in class every week (enrolled in, not attending), and how many hours of work do you do outside of class per hour spent in class.

Now, I only claim as much scientific rigor as one would expect of an Econ 10 survey. The hours were all self-reported and my sample size was only about 100 people total. That being said, the results were as expected. As far as time actually spent in class goes, students at other universities average three more hours in class per week than we do. Furthermore, per hour spent in class, Dartmouth students spend an average of 0.6 fewer hours working outside of class (at least the smattering I sampled). Even failing to account for the different averages of time spent in class, that's 6.6 fewer hours per week a sizeable chunk of time, and a difference I find hard to believe is a product of statistical bias. Even those polled at other colleges on a quarter system averaged more hours than Dartmouth students did!

So why do we complain about the illusion of having mountains of work to do? It's because we're coddled and we're babied. The classroom culture here assumes that Dartmouth students are among the brightest and hardest working students in the world, and our complaining only reinforces this. When students pan courses that they consider require an inordinate amount of work (which would be considered normal at another institution), there is little incentive for professors to maintain their workloads. This creates pressure on faculty to go easier on us, reducing readings and assignments. Obviously, this is not the case for every class or even every department, but rather a general trend.

We have to be spending our time doing something, though! We don't just waste away in Novack for facetime all day and in frats drinking all night. I unfortunately neglected to include this in my survey, but my theory is that Dartmouth students tend to spend much more time doing extracurricular activities. By "my theory" I should say "my experience;" I easily spend 15-20 hours every week working on my own extracurricular activities, and while that may be a high number, it seems like most people here have some investment outside of the classroom.

But you know what? That's what makes Dartmouth great. We are afforded more time to pursue things that will cultivate us as individuals, not just intellectuals. As much as I may trumpet the value of a liberal arts education, it would all be meaningless without the time afforded to me to pursue my internships, extracurriculars and conferences throughout the last three years. I complain about my class work because it's less engaging and interesting to me than my extracurricular work. Thank you, Dartmouth, for compromising yourself enough with respect to academic rigor to allow me that flexibility.

Instead of complaining about our classwork, we should be complaining about how we naturally overschedule ourselves. We're spending less time on our academics, so the D-Plan is clearly not all that time-consuming. The fact that we are overworked in the face of relatively little academic involvement is something that should be celebrated, not scorned. In fact, next time I see President Jim Yong Kim, I might thank him for bailing me out of class enough to allow me to make myself a well-rounded and experienced student.