Tuesday, August 4, 2009

College in Three Years?

Interesting blog post here about an idea thrown out in a forthcoming book by Robert Zemsky from Penn -- an excerpt of which can be found here -- that college could be reduced to three years. Here are the pros and cons I see with the idea:


-Most (though certainly not all) college students waste a fair amount of time and could easily learn in three years what they now learn in four.

-There would be a good bit of potential cost savings. I'm not buying that it would immediately reduce the cost of attending college by 25%, but it couldn't hurt.

-It seems likely that more students would finish college and more would enter grad school.

-If it was coupled with the idea to reduce high school to three years, then virtually all college students would be under 21 . . . making alcohol policies on campus a bit clearer


-As someone who was a college student not that long ago, it sure seems that a lot of college students are awfully immature even after four years of school . . . what would they be like after only three?

-It seems likely that condensing the timeframe would also condense the curriculum . . . goodbye breadth requirements?

-It also seems likely that college would be viewed more as a stepping stone . . . which could be good in a number of ways, but could harm those who aim for a bachelor's degree as their ultimate goal

I also have to say that I was somewhat taken aback by this part of the argument:

"Though the community colleges will see themselves as threatened, a nationally adopted three-year baccalaureate degree could well prove to be a boon to them by clearly identifying and funding them as the places where students go to complete their precollegiate education."

Spoken like somebody who's been locked up in the Ivory Tower of the Ivy League a bit too long. Anybody who believes that community colleges should only function as a precursor to real college is woefully out of touch with reality.

All in all, it's not the worst idea -- though I seriously doubt that we'll see it on a wide scale anytime soon. Our ultra-decentralized system of education has a lot of advantages, but one drawback is that it's tough to implement radical reforms such as this one (assuming we agreed it was a good idea).


Anonymous said...

I'm not necessarily sure it even means more would graduate. Three years, as you say, probably means more intensive curriculum (or more per semester class requirements), both of which are likely to be detrimental towards lower-achievers finishing. At my university, it wasn't all that uncommon to finish in 5 years, so I can't imagine that pushing people into a 3 year program would be sufficient.

I could see this being beneficial if the 3 year program also incorporated a year of intern/on the job training (like some graduate schools do for education students). Adding professional experience coupled with supplementary classes (both of which would be worth credit) might be a decent alternative.

Anonymous said...

The entire K-12 system should be revamped into four four year segments: early childhood 4-7 years old, elementary 8-11, secondary 12-15, university 16-19 with options for service/ internship/apprenticeships before and after university. Our young people are being infantilized through the vestiges of the factory model system. They can learn more, faster today; and need to prepare for a complex multidimensional world sooner. What governmental system can make such bold changes in the present climate of fear based and test mania? I don't know. Maybe the Australians could invade us...

Cory Bougher said...

Although I usually support anyone with the desire to continue their education well beyond high school, even undergrad, I can say from experience that our recent economic circumstances has devalued the collegiate system.

Most of our jobs are service-oriented that don't require an expensive 4-year degree and the well-paying ones that are left require an advanced degree - that leaves a very vague middle education sector and a shrinking middle class.