Few students read textbooks, but that shouldn’t be surprsing

Modern culture is saturated with the market system. From the number of advertisements one sees each day to even the sacrosanct realm of academics, the market is ever spreading.

This phenomenon has not come without consequence.

The American higher education system has traditionally been one of tremendous rigor and prestige. From cutting-edge ideas to the freedom to pursue them, intellectuals in the past century have flocked to the prospect of partaking in the American higher education system.

Yet, of late, there has been a decline in the quality of individuals who graduate with their bachelor’s degree. While the impetus is likely to be multivariable, at least one is very apparent in everyday classrooms: Students don’t read their textbooks.

If one is accustomed to looking, it is very plain to see who reads their textbook and who does not. Look for the blank stares in your class. Many critiques of modern education’s decline often blame a decrease in liberal education and an increase in technical job training.

I propose that there is a very simple economic analysis to describe how the rise of technical education acts as an enabling mechanism, permitting students not to read their textbooks.

The opposite of the traditional, liberal education is sometimes referred to as a technical education.

The virtues of focusing one’s attention on his or her future profession can streamline the training process, and allow students to enter the workforce in an expedited fashion.

Given that a technical career requires certification or licensing, a student will recognize an institution such as college as the primary mechanism to get a job in their desired industry.

Thus, in order for a student to get a job, there is at least one major goal to accomplish: graduate college.

Yet, a career is not the only part of a student’s future life. Anyone alive also has a number of other things that he or she would like to do, from having friends, to skills and hobbies, to raising kids.

Each of these things requires part of one’s time. It is a fact that time is limited, but there are an unlimited amount of desires for how to use that time.

If this is the case, then time usage becomes a complex game of “what do I value the most?”

A student who has chosen to get a technical education has already made the choice that a large proportion of his or her time will be spent earning a degree. That time, however, might otherwise be spent on any number of things.

Whether those things are drinking a beer or playing video games, a student has inherently decided that learning is initially worth more than those other things.

When a student chooses to be a student, he or she did not choose to be a farmer or a video game player primarily. The choice was to invest in a career.

At any degree-granting college, part of the contract between the student and the educators is a list of requirements for graduation.

These often include required classes, and pertinent to this discussion, a required grade point average. A student must carry a minimum GPA to be labeled competent by his or her college.

The purpose of minimum competency for the college is a matter of liability and reputation, and it ensures that the student will have at least a bare minimum of training in preparation for his or her future job.

The student knows that to get that degree requires surpassing minimum competency. Rationally, a student knows that he or she will be required to perform only so well in classes to get the minimum GPA.

The result of this equation is that a student only needs to work so hard in class. How hard? Only as hard as a particular class requires to get by.

Often, indeed too often, people can squeak without having touched their textbook all semester.

The plain truth, however, is that there is no economic incentive to do more work than this. Perhaps, ultimately, it is the professor’s job to provide that motivation.