Earlier this year, as reported by the New York Times, a New York University professor was fired after 82 of his 350 students signed a petition against him for making his organic chemistry course too hard.

As ‘quiet quitting,’ the phenomenon of only doing the bare minimum, continues to trend, it begs the question: Are students putting in the amount of effort needed to succeed? And if so, should effort always equal success?

To get a better understanding of how difficult students find their courses and how they respond to being enrolled in a challenging class, Intelligent.com surveyed 1,000 current 4-year college students.

Key findings:

  • 87% of college students say professors make classes too difficult
  • Two-thirds say the professor should have been forced to make the class easier, and nearly 1 in 10 filed a complaint
  • 1 in 3 students who put in ‘a lot of effort’ spend less than 5 hours/week studying
  • 38% of students have asked a professor to change their grade, and 31% have cheated in order to get a better grade
  • Nearly half want their school to move to pass/fail grading

87% of college students say classes are made too difficult

The vast majority of students (87%) say they have felt at least one of their college classes was too challenging and should have been made easier by the professor.

Twenty-two percent have felt this way about one class, 54% about a few, 10% about most, and 2% about all of their classes.

Only 13% of students have never felt a class they’ve taken was too difficult and should have been made easier by the professor.

The plurality of students (69%) say they responded by studying more or asking a professor (49%) or classmate (48%) for help.

However, 8% say they filed a complaint against the professor, and 17% dropped the class.

Two-thirds say the professor should have been forced to make the class easier

Although the majority of students never filed a complaint, 66% say the professor should have ‘definitely’ (18%) or ‘maybe’ (48%) been forced to make the class easier.

The issue of classes being made too difficult most frequently came up in classes that fall under the subjects of math and science.

Forty-five percent of students say a math class they took should have been made easier, and 34% say the same about a science class.

Mike Katz, a Professor at University of California Berkeley who teaches a class called The Pursuit of Meaningful Work, which is about Gen Z psychology and values, gives some insight as to why so many college students say they feel professors are making classes too difficult.

Gen Z has less resilience than other generations,” Katz says.

“It’s less that faculty are making their courses harder and more that students feel greater anxiety and overwhelm when they perform worse than they expected. This puts them in a “fight or flight” state, and often they’re fighting to get grades changed or to discipline faculty members.”

1 in 3 students who put in ‘a lot of effort’ spend less than 5hrs/wk studying

Almost all students say they put effort into their schoolwork; 64% say they put ‘a lot’ of effort into and 27% ‘a little bit.’

But of the 64% who say they put in a lot of effort, one-third also say they spend less than 5 hours a week studying and on homework.

Overall, 3% of students say they spend less an hour doing homework or studying for classes each week, 31% spend 1-5 hours, 37% spend 6-10 hours, 16% spend 11-15 hours, 8% spend 15-20 hours, and 5% spend more than 20 hours.

3 in 10 students have asked a professor to change their grade, admit to cheating

When asked if they have ever asked a professor to change their grade, 28% of students say they have.

Additionally, 31% of current college students say they have cheated in order to get a better grade.

This could in part be because grades will definitely be considered down the line for many students. The majority of students (81%) say it’s likely they’ll pursue a graduate degree; 25% in business, 14% computer science, and 13% medicine.

Nearly half want school to move to pass/fail grading

Many college students want to replace the traditional grading system with pass/fail grading.

Overall, 18% ‘definitely’ think classes should be pass/fail, while 27% ‘probably’ do, and 32% don’t have an opinion.

On the other hand, 16% said the traditional grading system should ‘probably not’ be replaced with a pass/fail grading system, and 7% say ‘definitely not’.

Methodology 

All data found within this report derives from a survey commissioned by Intelligent.com and conducted online by survey platform Pollfish. In total, 1,000 4-year college students were surveyed.

Appropriate respondents were found via Pollfish’s demographic tools and a screening question.

This survey was conducted on October 4, 2022. All respondents were asked to answer all questions truthfully and to the best of their abilities. For full survey data, please email [email protected]