A large number of US university students fail to develop critical thinking, reasoning and writing skills because of easy classes and too little time spent studying, a study found Wednesday.
The study of 3,000 students at 29 four-year universities found that 45 percent "did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning" during their first two years in college as measured by a standardized test.
After the full four years, 36 percent had shown no development in critical thinking, reasoning and writing, according to the study, which forms the basis of the new book "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses."
"Growing numbers of students are sent to college at increasingly higher costs, but for a large proportion of them the gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication are either exceedingly small or empirically nonexistent," according to an excerpt of the book published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
"These findings are sobering and should be a cause for concern."
The study, carried out by New York University sociologist and education expert Richard Arum and University of Virginia sociologist Josipa Roksa, attributed much of the problem to easy courses and lax study habits.
US students today "define and understand their college experiences as being focused more on social than on academic development," they wrote.
In a particular semester, 32 percent of those surveyed did not take any course with more than 40 pages of reading per week and 50 percent did not take a single course in which they wrote more than 20 pages.
The study cited another report as saying that students now spend just 12 to 14 hours studying each week, 50 percent less than full-time college students did a few decades ago.
Much of this studying takes place in social group settings, which the report said are "not generally conducive to learning," and 35 percent of students said they spend five or fewer hours a week studying alone, it added.
"The US higher education system has in recent years arguably been living off its reputation as being the best in the world," the report said.
But "the system's international reputation -- largely derived from graduate programs at a handful of elite public and private universities -- serves as no guarantee that undergraduate students are being appropriately challenged," it added.