Monday, October 19, 2009

How Much College Do Students Need?

In this week's Newsweek Lamar Alexander argues that students should finish college in three years. Both of my kids attended Bard High School Early College and thus received Associate Degrees (in Liberal Arts) at the same time that they received their high school diplomas. Joel, who graduated college (Oberlin) last June, was able to apply enough credits earned at BHSEC that he could complete a major and two minors without two much of a problem. That, however, was when I was still employed. Ruth, now in her first year at Grinnell, may face the decision of either completing college in three years or encumbering herself with the debt for the fourth year. Joel managed to graduate debt-free. Ruth may not be so lucky.

I can readily see the point of finishing college in three years but I also know that the last year (in some sense the "extra" year) that Joel spent in college was a valuable one for him. There may be a case to be made for not thinking in terms of a "one-size-fits-all" model when contemplating the length of a college career. As Alexander points out in his article the statistics seem to indicate that it is no longer the reality -- but unfortunately, in real life, students are taking more than four years:

The average amount of time students now take to complete an undergraduate degree has stretched to six years and seven months as students interrupted by work, inconvenienced by unavailable classes, or lured by one more football season find it hard to graduate.

I'd like to know where Alexander gets that statistic, by the way; I couldn't find anything like it on Google. The National Center for Education statistics seems to say that it takes students a little over five years to graduate.

In any event, Newsweek bolsters the argument for a three-year college career with the following video:

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