5 Stodgy, Ridiculous, Unrealistic Ways to Fix College

First, the caveats. I have a whopping three years of college teaching experience. Heck, I’m barely halfway through a PhD program, so take the following post with a grain (heap?) of salt. But, never at a loss to espouse an opinion, I do have a few crazy ideas about how to change the American college experience these days.

BelushiCollegeThese ideas stem mainly from my experience at small, private liberal arts schools—and I realize such schools are the small minority of U.S. college students’ experience. I also appreciate that the following suggestions may be impractical, if not impossible, to implement. They don’t really help fix our broken cost/loan/college financing system. Nonetheless, this is a blog. It’s for sharing ideas, not making them happen. The fun is in the thinking out loud.

I’ve called these ideas “stodgy” because in many ways I see them as going back to college practices of the past. Yes, I appreciate the irony: the guy who studies religion and new media is wondering about the practices of the not-so-recent past. Such is the consequence of curiosity. Here it goes:

My Stodgy Ways to Fix College

  1. Allow no high school credits to transfer. Zero. Zilch. Advanced Placement (AP) courses are great. On-campus college courses are—or at least should be—better. College courses should build upon the great foundation of learning offered in high school, including high school AP courses. But what if we stopped the credit creep but drawing a firm line in the sand?

My old-school vision: our high schools should give credit for high schools; our colleges should grant credit for college. We must stop this ridiculous notion of pre-college college credits. That misses the point…of college!

  1. No graduating college early. This idea flows from the first quite naturally, as it’d become much harder to graduate early if students could bring in no credits from high school. This year, I’m fortunate to teach both first-year college students and a few seniors (in separate classes). The difference is night and day.

It takes four years—OK a lifetime, but at least four years—to mature into a wise, enterprising, thoughtful and informed adult. What’s the rush? Life’s not a race. What if colleges said, quite clearly, that “here students must learn for a full four years because we think there’s so much to learn it shouldn’t be done any faster.”

  1. No declaring one’s major until the spring of one’s sophomore year. (And, if I’m really getting greedy: no intense discussion of what to major in during the entirely of one’s first year.) This suggestion is an admittedly reactionary response to my distaste for the push, earlier and earlier, to put students into small boxes by academic interests. In high school—high school!—there’s much discussion of what students should study in college.

In my experience, many first-year students arrive on campus all in a tizzy about, 1) if the major they’ve already declared is the perfect, right and good major to serve them the rest of their lives, and 2) if not—because how in the world would they know what to major in before being on campus for at least a semester or two?!—then the anxiety about how and when to change their major takes over their every waking thought.

  1. What if colleges offered no more than 10 majors total? I’m not saying we should cut any faculty positions, nor programs exactly or courses taught. Instead, such a move would support this notion of learning for the love inherent to learning, out of one’s deep curiosity, rather than credit collection. We confuse what college is about when we offer so many darn programs. (5. I’d be open to doing away with minors completely.)

By offering dozens of majors, and minors, and certificates, and concentrations we’re suggesting to potential employers, “Only the students with an exact qualification on paper would do well in ______ position available.” Instead, we should be taking a more holistic notion to education, convincing potential employers—by our students’ education and relevant experiences—that our graduates can succeed in any position they put their mind to. Their education, in total, has helped prepare them, not simply the seven courses they took for XYZ major, and the four they found for ABC minor.

Sure, this is all quite unrealistic, and it’s at least not a particularly level-headed reaction to what I’ve witnessed in higher ed these days. But, don’t you worry, I’ve even got a tagline or two all mocked-up and ready to market:

  •  Offering 10 majors…and 10 million ways to serve the world.
  •  Graduate in 4 years: no more, no less.
  •  Our graduates do good and are good for something. (a mash up of Henry David Thoreau and Barbara Brown Taylor)

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