Friday, December 31, 2010

Two Year Bachelor Degrees

Despite the feelings of Education Chief Arne Duncan to the contrary, for many students in the United States, the k-16 system is both too long and inefficient. It has always troubled me that I have students who take and pass four or five AP classes/exams during their junior year, and still have another year of school to meet state graduation requirements. That is not only inefficient and expensive, it's downright illogical and ridiculous. Thus, I have been pleased over the past two years as the state of Colorado has sought to expand dual-enrollment, which in many ways is a much better idea than even AP or IB. Though I still prefer the rigor of the College Board, I am miffed by the colleges who are increasingly stingy in what they will give credit for.

In some interesting news on this front out of the public schools in the nation's capital, two DC area schools are planning to offer, in conjunction with the University of DC, a two-year bachelor degree that students will complete after finishing a special program for the junior and senior years of high school. It's the basic idea of AP or dual-credit, in which kids take the rigorous general education requirements during high school - and get state graduation credit - and thus only have the higher level, degree specific courses. This is exactly the sort of forward thinking that the American education system needs - and which has been promoted by people such as Charles Murray, Newt Gingrich, and Jeb Bush.

Clearly, the DC public schools is really the last place I would expect to see this arise. It is obviously only for the most motivated students, and that is not most common on the lower socio-economic strata. Yet, if they find kids and teachers who can make it work - with no diluting of standards and expectations - this will be a good thing. And decreasing the overall cost for poorer kids is certainly an added incentive. Hopefully, this idea works and becomes a harbinger of change to come nationwide.


Susan said...

I just discussed a similar idea over on my blog.
The premise was a discussion on an idea for total school reform using the year-round school model. This would then allow time for the obligatory bachelor's degree to be completed much earlier and therefore increase productivity and innovation. Thanks for another great post!

mazenko said...

I support making the system more flexible and efficient - but I am opposed to the idea of lengthening "the school year." In fact, my point is that many kids need less time in school, not more. However, they still need breaks, and there is much education - especially for these motivated kids - found outside the classroom in summer activities. I find kids to benefit as much from camps, travel, sports, jobs, and free time as they do from classroom instruction.

abellia said...

This is a disappointing entry, as it equates a college education with the accumulation of a set of credits. I sure hope it is more than that, tough I fear that this perception is becoming more and more common.

Perhaps students shouldn't be in high school as long as they are. But what is your argument for this - they can succeed at college-level classes? So what? There is tons to learn, be it in high school or in college. I'm not sure to who benefits from a shorter cycle, unless you don't believe what students are learning is valuable.

mazenko said...

Nothing so pessimistic or fatalistic as that, Abellia. Learning is a lifelong endeavor, and I do not propose a simple utilitarian philosophy to something as vast as "higher education." It is the hope of any society devoted to a classical, liberal education that learning extends beyond the required courses. Certainly, we hope the art major takes a math class, and the engineer studies poetry. That is my view of education.

However, I also acknowledge the real world in which a college education is a measure of credits. Society uses degrees as a barometer - it's the gatekeeper to indicate to employers who has the conviction to see something like a degree program through to the end. For many, it's not about the actual knowledge, but the experience and the accomplishment.

All sorts of people benefit from a shorter cycle, just as many benefit from a longer one. Some graduate with a few more credits and an extra year or two that included an internship and a semester abroad - others limited their electives and focused on accomplishing their goal of a degree and maybe a license for a career.

It's a mistake to assume that more equals better.

abellia said...

For many, it's not about the actual knowledge, but the experience and the accomplishment.

Huh? Isn't this what we should be fighting? Isn't this what you lament when you (rightly, in my mind) suggest that not every student go on to college? What has one accomplished if one hasn't learned anything - the spending of tens of thousands of dollars and some fine partying?

College should be about learning. Period. This learning is more than a set of classes or a collection of credits, but of course, you hope that students know a good deal more from an academic perspective than they started with. I have seen too many kids hurry to get through college (by using AP credits, summer school at CC, etc.), and they have, well, not much in the way of a real education, but they do have that degree. Should we just applaud this and call it good?

The time required for bachelor's degree is arbitrary, but the duration serves an important and time-tested purpose. It allows students to learn while they mature in a semi-controlled, yet independent, environment. Perhaps some kids don't need 4 years. Perhaps some kids need more. But the fact that a student has succeeded in some AP classes doesn't change the need for that time.

I hear more and more that recent graduates are NOT prepared for work - not because they don't have a degree, but because they don't have the maturity, thoughtfulness, care, etc. to do a good and thorough job.

mazenko said...

I absolutely agree with you on the issue of maturity and depth of knowledge. In fact, I had that discussion with a class today, noting I have many freshman who are pretty accomplished in the general skills of higher level reading, writing, and thinking. Clearly, though, they are not ready for college or life, as those skills need to mature and develop with increasing rigor. That's why K-16 is set up as it is. We have to set an arbitrary age for adulthood, and we set an arbitrary number of credits for a degree.

Certainly, the duration for the degree allows that time for maturity. But whether it's two or four years - and whether it's the age of nineteen or twenty-one - depends on the student and his goals, as well as his future employers and their goals. Thus, I simply applaud greater flexibility in the pursuit of the degree.

And, in responding to my quote you cited, it is in many ways up to the future employer. Some say kids aren't ready - and they shouldn't hire or retain those kids. But some, simply want to see the degree to understand that an applicant accomplished the degree program. They will train and develop the knowledge they require for the job.

It's the rigidity of the k-16 system that I challenge. If some kids can accomplish "the program" in less time, and they have, in fact, "matured" faster than others, then we should support that.

While I'd love for them to stay longer and study more to develop a deeper level of education, I also concede practical realities of cost-benefit analysis.