- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2003

High school seniors are studying less but getting better grades than their predecessors, and are spending more time on the computer for both research and fun, according to an annual nationwide study by the University of California at Los Angeles.
"The best interpretation we can make is that grade inflation has been increasing because of all the pressure on teachers from students and parents to help them become more competitive for college," said UCLA professor Alexander Astin, director of the school's Higher Education Research Institute and the survey's founder.
"Each year we think it can't inflate anymore. And then it does again. The C-grade is almost a thing of the past."
Thirty-three percent of students said they spent six hours per week or more studying or doing homework the lowest percentage since the survey question was first asked in 1987 46 percent of whom managed to graduate with an A average in 2001. Only 17 percent earned A's in 1968, and 44 percent did in 2000.
Linda Sax, a UCLA professor and the survey's current director, partially blamed the decline in homework and study time on increased computer use.
"It is unclear if computer and Internet use has enabled students to complete their homework in less time, or whether the time students spend using the computer simply takes away from the time that they could be spending on their studies," Miss Sax said.
The survey of 282,549 freshmen at 437 universities shows that they are spending more time on the computer. Frequent use of personal computers hit a record 84 percent last year, compared with 82 percent in 2001, the survey showed.
The percentage of students using the Internet for research or homework during their last year in high school increased from 75 percent in 2001 to 78 percent last year. The percentage of students surfing the Internet for reasons other than studying or research also rose from 52 percent in 2000 to 62 percent last year.
Jacqueline King, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at the Washington-based American Council on Education, said the situation is "a cause for concern."
"The jury is still out on the increased computer use," Miss King said. "We don't know if students are using computers to be more efficient or they are using them to take the easy way out instead of going to the library and doing research that way. But this is a cause for concern."
The survey also found that this year's freshmen don't drink, smoke or party anywhere near as much as their predecessors.
The survey said 46 percent of freshmen compared with 74 percent in 1982 reported drinking beer either frequently or occasionally during the past 12 months. An additional 36 percent said they don't attend any parties during a typical week. Twenty-five percent of freshmen said they spend six hours or more per week partying, down from 27 percent last year and 37 percent in 1987.
The percentage of incoming freshmen who smoke cigarettes frequently has dropped for the fourth consecutive year, reaching a 15-year low of 7 percent. Nine percent of freshmen said they smoked cigarettes in 2001 and 15 percent in 1967, the survey found.
With the decline in partying has come increased focus on politics.
Among freshmen entering college in 2001, 31 percent said they regularly kept up with politics. Last year, the number increased to 33 percent as the first class of freshmen entered school after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"We don't know whether it's a 9/11 blip or part of a trend," Mr. Astin said.
The all-time low in political interest, 28 percent, was recorded in 2000 and the all-time high, 60 percent, in 1966.

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