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As a kid, I was a reader. And not just in the sense that I read sometimes, but my eyes were always glued to a book. A favorite anecdote I like to tell is from elementary school. During these years, I visited the library so often that I befriended the librarian, and by fourth grade, she would give me the freshly delivered books to read and review when she didn’t have the time to do it herself. Needless to say, I adored reading.

While this story exemplifies my affinity for reading, the truth is that I just loved learning. I was the kid who sat in the front of class, raised my hand persistently, raced as fast as I could through the times tables, befriended my teachers and so on. School was never a chore, but instead something I enjoyed. As the end of each summer neared, I would wait excitedly for the letter that disclosed who my new teacher was, and I’d hurriedly email (yes, email) my friends to compare. 

Year by year, this feeling gradually faded. Seeing my friends at the end of summer remained exciting, but the loads of work attached with this conclusion were not. Elementary school progressed to high school and, by junior year, I felt that everything I did was because I had to. Do your homework to get good grades. Get good grades to get into a good college. What made a good college? I didn’t know, but I knew I needed one. In my head, college meant I could finally learn what I wanted, when I wanted, because I wanted to. Pamphlets embellished with the flashy slogans of “Discover Your Passions” and “Explore Your Interests” filled my mailbox and littered my kitchen counter. Always the same clichés marked their covers, yet it was a sentiment I yearned to be true.

So then I did it: I got into a good college and everything was supposed to work out. Yet, by the second week of college, I had 22 assignments to complete. With an assortment of readings, quizzes, homework and writing needing to be done, I was overwhelmed. Where was the eutopia of philosophical discussions I had seen in the movies and idolized? This instead felt like high school but harder. In college I have less time devoted to class, but for every hour of free time I gained another hour of out-of-class grind took its place. When I wasn’t working, I was studying for tests, which now accounted for greater percentages of my grade than ever before. My friends and I were daunted by the vast array of distribution requirements and prerequisites for grad school that we held little interest in. Needless to say, things were a lot different than I had imagined. 

I could sit here and argue that homework and tests decrease how effectively we understand material, but in reality, the evidence would not be in my favor. I know very well that these things are vital for understanding coursework. Instead, I believe that increased academic benefits that come from excess homework and tests are not worth the negative effects they create. A Stanford study from 2014 claims that 56% percent of respondents consider homework a primary source of stress, while another 43% consider tests a primary source. When common effects of academic stress include insomnia, lack of motivation, mood swings, anxiety, depression and more, it’s arguable that these effects outweigh the “learning” being done. I put learning in quotations here because I feel that memorizing would truly be a better word for it. Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve shows us that we forget 56% percent of information one hour after studying, about 66% after a day and roughly 75% after six days. So are the risks of anxiety and depression truly worth it for material that is often not even digested? In my eyes, not at all.

Many argue that the intensity of the design of college is worth it due to the financial rewards reaped in future careers. In my economics class, we discussed occupational licensing, which is a phenomenon that decreases the employee pool for high-paying jobs due to the hurdles one must overcome to get a license. One of the most essential licenses is a college degree, as employers feel it shows determination through difficult environments. This, however, fosters workplace environments that are centered around the same cutthroat mentality that college fosters, as employers assume employees are accustomed to this environment. The cycle of academic stress and its negative effects are now perpetuated in the workplace, leading to physical and mental factors that adversely affect not only employees, but the company. Hence, a more student-focused college design would encourage a more employee-driven workplace and more productive companies. 

So, how should college be designed? The solution lies in designing courses for student success. In Econ 102, three tests make up 85% of a student’s grade, and in classes like Organic Chemistry, they hold similar weight. Due to the overwhelming weight of these tests, professors should offer post-test revisions that allow students to improve their scores. This would encourage students to revisit and comprehend material they aren’t as strong in, while also using this process to improve their grade. At least 75% of time devoted to a class should occur during class, not out of class homework or cramming. If you have an hour and a half long class, you should not expect more than 30 minutes of homework. Not only would this allow students to spend their time outside of class exploring their interests in other ways (such as student organizations), it also incentivizes professors to make the most of class time. Lastly, errors in written assignments should not correlate to grade deductions. These assignments should be graded using completion and effort, followed by constructive criticism, which would allow students to improve in written areas they don’t excel in without bearing the burden in their grade. 

There are a multitude of ways that the college structure can be improved beyond what I’ve suggested. These improvements alter the directory of college and its purpose, allowing for academic institutions to finally prioritize students and their well-being.

Claudia Flynn is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at