Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Three-Year College Degrees: Is That a Good Idea?

 I recently stopped off at my local natural food store to pick up a box of my favorite organic breakfast cereal. The stuff tastes like maple-flavored cardboard, which I prefer to strawberry-flavored cardboard.

This cereal is expensive, and when I picked up the box, I noticed it seemed too light--like it was only half full. I realized then that the cereal manufacturer was hiding its rising costs by giving me less for my money instead of charging me more.

Something like that is happening in higher education. According to Inside Higher Ed, "Higher education thought leaders" and several colleges are developing three-year college degree programs. 

Why? Because a college education has gotten intolerably expensive, and a three-year program would theoretically reduce the cost of a college education by 25 percent.

Several models would slash the total number of credit hours from 120 to 90. Sort of like my breakfast cereal. Colleges keep their costs down by offering students fewer courses.

Is this a good idea?

Maybe. Most people agree that many students are taking required courses that don't interest them in the least. Why should an engineering student have to take a course in biology?

But the "thought leaders" are forgetting one critically important fact. Most students don't complete their college degrees in four years. In fact, only a little more than half the students at public universities  (57.6 percent) get their degrees in six years!

Private colleges have a slightly higher graduation rate.  Still, only about two-thirds of private-school students graduate within six years.

That tells me that most college students are in no hurry to complete their degrees and enter the world of work.

Some experts think that three-year college programs have significant drawbacks. A Connecticut college discontinued its three-year program because it "did not allow for the psychosocial and academic development of 18- to 22-year olds" that would occur if students were on campus for four years.

In an article published ten years ago, the Washington Post reported that three-year college programs are not catching on. Some students dropped out of the three-year option, the paper said, because they wanted more time to participate in student activities.

I applaud any effort to cut the cost of going to college. And maybe some of those required classes should be dropped. When I was a student (in the previous century), I took required courses in history, geography, biology, and chemistry.

Except for my American history course, which I loved, the information I got from my required classes went in one ear and out the other. I remember selling my chemistry text within an hour after finishing my final exam. (I got a C.)

Let's keep working on ideas to cut the cost of going to college. We've simply got to get tuition prices down and keep students from taking out student loans they can't repay.  Three-year college programs may be part of the answer.

But let's not cut history courses from the college curriculum. I took an American history class when I was a college freshman, and I still remember why Washington crossed the Delaware.

Why did Washington cross the Delaware, and who cares anymore?

1 comment:

  1. Shortcuts in American higher ed are nothing new.

    The historian of education, Robert L Hampel, gives an amusing peek at perennial American shortcuts in education in his book, Fast and Curious: A History of Shortcuts in American Education (2017).

    But some shortcuts have been around for a long time: Advanced Placement, CLEP, IB, and most of all, Dual Enrollment, save parents millions (if not billions) by amassing dozens of college credits for immediate transfer upon enrollment. At least, that's what parents and students have been told for the past 50 years.
    I've even heard of students graduating with an associates degree and high school diploma at the same time! What a circus this has become!

    There is even talk about "unbundling" courses -- so that subjects that irrelevant can be ignored. A good example are the irrelevant courses bundled together for nursing students. Electives (where I taught nursing students) leaven the loaf for some students -- but for others, it is an unnecessary burden.
    Along the same lines, pundits have noticed LPNs are a dying breed -- a bachelors' or a masters is what nurses enroll for -- but does it make sense? Only for the schools, when you think about it. Credential inflation or degree inflation -- call it what you will -- is just a money maker for schools, and a drain on the public fisc.

    What will happen (I ask myself) when the edifice collapses like a house of cards? What can be salvaged after some unforeseen catastrophe that reorders society in ways no one can predict? Social institutions (like churches and even marriage) are facing extinction, going the way of the dinosaur. Education is facing increasing pressure to become something that it is not and cannot become.