So, on Monday I posted a rant in response to Lamar Alexander’s Newsweek argument in favor of a three-year college degree. Got some good responses, including this one from tk:
The three year concept completely baffles me. Especially when Alexander makes reference to no summer breaks. Let’s see, three years plus three summer breaks. Hmmm! It sounds to me like four years. Without the opportunity to get a paying job in the summer and leading to more debt for the students. Some plan!! It may help the colleges pay costs in the summer, but it makes for more debt for the students. Not a good recipe…
I am an attorney, and have been one for almost forty years. My career has been rewarding and fulfilling for me. Without a wide ranging college experience, I would not even be a lawyer because I was a math major, and the math and science requirements alone would have left me no time to explore the humanities, without which…….?
Colleges are NOT simply trade schools. And education is much, much more than training. Core courses provide a context for whatever career we choose. And, context counts. I, for one, am tired of doctors who are science geniuses and devoid of understanding and personal skills. I detest techies who think that the world begins and ends with engineering, and who require mathematical solutions to human problems. And I think we have no more need for business majors to whom the bottom line of their companies is mkore important than their impact on the real lives of real people.
The three year solution will lead to a less educated college graduate, when what we desparately need is a more educated one.
But, let’s face it. He’s been there, done that. Me, too. I wanted to hear from the kids, the ones who are racking up the loans and writing five-figure checks. So yesterday I sent my Intro/Journalism students out onto the campus to find out what students who would be affected by such a plan thought about it. Their money — given the hefty cost of tuition at our university — or their, well, life plan. Following is a sampling of what they said (I’ve left out names. Hope that’s not a problem). The majority emphasized that, despite the high cost of higher education, the full four year plan is a major factor in their development and growth.
“You learn more about yourself when you try other things, are exposed to new and unique ways of thinking, become more open minded and increase the capacity to understand others,” said one junior woman.
A couple of engineering students said that with a three year plan, they would only be able to focus on engineering classes, leaving them no time to explore other subjects and become well rounded students.
One first year student said that the three-year plan seemed like a more efficient and practical way to save money — and some others agreed, given the cost of tuition. But most of the students who were interviewed voted no. Two sophomores said that they valued the extra time spent as an undergrad, deciding their career path and major. Another described how taking a philosophy course spurred an interest that otherwise would have gone completely unnoticed. One first year kid wondered: “Maybe you find out you don’t like your major — and then you’re stuck.” With the thee year plan, he continued, “you don’t have a chance to experience different courses in college. I’m not a big fan of that idea.”
An accounting major agreed: “I think it’s better to have college students attend for all four years. You need that additional year where you’re still developing your professional skills, your personal skills and social skills. A fourth years would be very critical in working towards your independence.”
All of which was echoed by — okay, not a student — the director of the university’s Career Center: “School is an opportunity to explore what’s important to you, what you’re interested in, and/or passionate about. It’s not learning for its own sake. College allows you to grow in more ways than just taking math, science and English.”
Possibly the best perspective came from a recent grad, who took six years off between high school and college, touring with a punk band and working low-income jobs before returning to school and finally graduating at age 28. “I think it takes most 18 and 19 year olds a few years to decide what it is that they want to do. three-year programs will be sending 20-and 21-year olds out into the workforce when they might not be mentally invested in what they are doing.”
Truth, said one sophomore. “That would suck if you’re only here for three years — then you’re out at 21.”