Flames of the Torch

Debra Rosenberg, the deputy editor of Newsweek, recently conducted an interview with five of the nation’s top educators and thinkers. She tackled the state of higher education in the United States and issues that seem harmful to the education of college students such as rising tuition costs. The conversation focused primarily on addressing the benefits of a three-year degree, an issue that has generated debate among college educators in recent years.

Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, told Rosenberg that the debate isn’t really centered around three years or four years, but rather how to “attain critical learning outcomes as rapidly as any individual has the capacity to do so.”

Furthermore, this is a disagreement on the most effective ways to provide a college education at a reasonable cost, and whether or not a three-year degree is a step in the wrong direction.

Crow advocates a progressive approach that spends less time on “routine” subjects and allots more time towards subjects that “require more focus and more energy.”

Elaine Tuttle Hansen, president of Bates College in Maine, also says that a primary objective of the three-year degree program at Bates is to provide options and cut the costs of an education for their students.

Though these opinions hold value and propose noble goals, they should be received with caution. Though many American students are in a fortunate position to move at accelerated speeds and enter their college years with an advanced comprehension of basic subjects like mathematics, geography, and English, the majority of students in our nation’s school system are not receiving this kind of opportunity during their elementary
and high school years.

According to Diane Ravitch, professor of education at New York University and former assistant secretary of education, most students today are not entering college properly prepared, and require a “catch up” year. Naturally, cutting one year off the average college degree would take this transition process away, effectively subtracting 25 percent of the current collegiate education.

In addition, by revamping the college degree structure to be more rigorous, we assume that high schools will in turn immediately do the same and start producing better prepared students. This is not the case and cannot be expected.

Perhaps most concerning about the notion of a standard three-year program is its reflection of cultural streamlining. Hansen admits that our culture is one marked by simplicity and speedy conveniences. But, as Hansen notes, education should never be one of the things we seek to modernize
with speed and minimalism.

Today our college system is turning into a streamlined process and a product that can be bought, which over time, will continue to see students fail to take responsibility for their learning and become increasingly lazy. Many of our classrooms today are filled with disinterested students paying thousands to fall asleep in class.

Educators should be more concerned with helping their students love learning, rather than thinking of ways to make the system more convenient. College is a time of reflection, a time where most students discover what they want to pursue in life.

While three-year degree options are not in themselves a bad idea, standardizing them at American colleges would prove to be a negative step back for collegiate education.