National / News / May 2, 2013

Reading into a problem

New data suggest that college students may be reading more than they are often given credit for, although major concerns remain about their poor literary skills.infographic_reading_hours

Surveying 1,265 students at an unnamed public liberal arts school in the Southwest, SuHua Huang, an assistant professor of reading education at Midwestern State University in Texas, attempted to determine how students were spending their time.

Huang’s results found that the average college student spends 21 hours reading each week. Of those, 8.9 hours are spent on the Internet, 7.7 hours on academic reading and 4.2 hours on everything else, such as novels, newspapers or magazines.

On a more negative note, the study, entitled “Reading Habits of College Students in the United States,”  noted that distraction in class, often by cell phones, was ubiquitous and that students were often unprepared in class. Much of the reading that is happening may be diminished by similar distractions.

Huang’s results were more positive than the most widely known research done in the field, that of the National Endowment for the Arts, which in 2004 published a landmark study entitled “Reading at Risk,”  pointing to the endangered state of traditional reading in American life. The report was updated and expanded into 2007’s “To Read or not to Read.”

“To Read or not to Read”  came to three major conclusions: that Americans are reading less, are reading less effectively and that these two trends combine to have major implications for American life.

The crux of the problem was found to come during adolescence and young adulthood, as reading rates have actually been improving among younger children.

About 65 percent of college freshmen read for pleasure less than an hour per week. Among seniors, about one in three will read nothing for enjoyment in the course of an average week. Of 18-to-24-year-olds, about half have not read a book for enjoyment over the past year. This cohort is also the one in which reading rate declines are occurring at the most accelerated pace.

This lack of reading has led to declines in reading skills.

Present holders of bachelor’s degrees have scored 23 percent worse on tests of reading comprehension than their counterparts a decade ago. A related trend is that 38 percent of employers rate recent graduates as “deficient” in reading skills.

A different study conducted by David A. Jolliffe and Allison Harl, which drew more heavily on interviews with individual students, found that reading done outside of class was often not done for relaxation. The students generally concerned themselves with professional preparation, religious texts or special-interest magazines. Some did read novels, popular nonfiction and newspapers as well.

A concern raised was that students generally refrained from connecting the texts they were reading with classroom discussion.

Joliffe and Harl also presented a time breakdown, finding on average an hour and 24 minutes a day spent on academic reading, 54 minutes on technology-based non-academic reading (such as Facebook posts or emails) and 25 on non-academic reading of print material.

Matt Barry
Matt Barry is a senior majoring in international relations and double minoring in economics and German. This is his third year working for TKS, having served previously as discourse editor. He has worked for such organizations as the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Premier Tourism Marketing and the Council on American Islamic Relations-Chicago, where his work appeared in such publications as Leisure Group Travel, Ski & Ride Club Guide and The Chicago Monitor. Matt has written his political opinion column, "The Voice of Reason," weekly for three years, which finished in first place at the 2012 Illinois College Press Association conference and was also recognized at the 2013 conference.

Tags:  academia iliterate literacy reading reading at risk suhua huang the national endowment for the arts to read or not to read

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