When I read this:
At most European universities, students receive their undergraduate degrees in three years — and Graduate School of Education professor Robert Zemsky thinks American should do the same…
First, he argues that because the majority of students now pursue advanced degrees, it is logical to find ways to shorten the time they spend in college in order to get a jump-start on professional and graduate degrees.
Second, Zemsky says in order to help American students transition to a three-year undergraduate system, their senior year of high school could be focused on developing the skills students will need to keep up with the accelerated pace.
I thought, don’t we do this already, by having most undergraduates (at least at relatively elite schools) take a year or semester abroad? Then Chris Shea backed me up:
Some American colleges–Yale, for example–used to be so presumptuous as to say that students would be better off spending all four years on the campus. The argument was that courses in the U.S. were more rigorous than most of those that students could find abroad. Want to see the world? Take a grand tour after college.
You don’t hear such arguments anymore. To study abroad is an expected, and seldom-challenged, part of the American college experience.
Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, however [subscribers only], John F. Burness, a visiting policy professor at Duke, says there’s more than a grain of truth to the old-fashioned view. The courses students take in study-abroad programs are often weaker than the ones they take at home. And too many students, he says, treat study-abroad programs as an extended opportunity to travel, with coursework, at best, a bonus.
Now travel is nice and all (and, to be sure, the best study-abroad programs are simultaneously challenging and horizon-expanding). But as one Marshall Scholar, a serious recent graduate, tells Burness: “For many students, study abroad is a semester off, not a semester on.”
So, the real problem seems to be that many university undergraduates really DO have a three-year college education; but that many of them are wasting their time in Europe rather than applying to graduate schools before they turn twenty-one.
The logic in both counterarguments is all about efficiency, acceleration — and implicitly, that a student should be finished with their education sometime between 21 and 25.
I will be the first to admit that is a terrible, terrible thing — really, a kind of disease — to be a twenty-nine-year-old graduate student. (Being a thirty-year-old postdoctoral fellow is a little like being in remission.) But I don’t think that hurrying the entire process along is a) where we are headed or b) where we want to head.
On the other hand, if you wanted to promote a three-year baccalaureate on the grounds that it would be easier for adults to finish their education and retrain themselves for new positions — I think I’d be a lot more sympathetic to that.