Shorten the “Experience”? No Way

Recently, colleges have been floating three-year bachelor’s degrees to undergraduates.  Many students enter with AP credits and a need to reduce tuition costs, so why not concentrate their studies and head into the real world a year sooner?   The university, too, would benefit.  As a story in the Los Angeles Times last year put it: 

“A proposal unveiled last month involved greater use of summer school and possibly streamlining requirements for some majors.  Proponents estimate that if 5% to 10% of UC undergraduates finished their degrees one term earlier than they do now, the university could educate 2,000 to 4,000.”
 
Buildings wouldn’t sit empty all summer long, students wouldn’t waste time and blow off in courses outside their career interests, and more individuals could be served (and charged tuition).  Everybody wins.
 
According to this story in the Washington Post from last week, however, the three-year option hasn’t worked.  Or rather, hardly any students are interested.  Only a “tiny percentage” of the undergraduates at various campuses have signed up for the programs.  The student profiled in the Post piece cite the desire to study abroad and to have a little more college fun before joining the working world. 
 
The Post doesn’t expand on her motives, but they sound typical to me.  It isn’t just because of the tough job market, either.  When we see that average homework time for students adds up to only 12 or 13 hours per week, college amounts to a part-time job for most students.  Most campuses have decent facilities, too, and 20-year-olds get to spend their time in the midst of hundreds and thousands of other 20-year-olds at sporting events and parties.  Why leave?
 
This is, in fact, the outcome of the front-end strategy of colleges.  They do all they can to lure high school seniors to their campuses, highlighting the wonderful and unique “college experience” they offer.  Not many adolescents say to themselves after receiving their admittance letter, “Okay, now let’s see about some programs to reduce the time I’m going to spend there.” 

Mark Bauerlein

Mark Bauerlein is a professor emeritus of English at Emory University and an editor at First Things, where he hosts a podcast twice a week. He is the author of five books, including The Dumbest Generation Grows Up: From Stupefied Youth to Dangerous Adults.

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