I was in the doctor’s office on Monday, and their magazines are woefully out of date. For some reason, they rely on donated magazines for their waiting room, so everything was old. I ended up reading a November 2009 Newsweek article by Senator Lamar Alexander on “Why College Shouldn’t Take Four Years“. So, imagine my surprise when, the next day, I saw that our state Senate had done exactly what Alexander recommended.
Now, I’m no higher education policy expert, but it seems to me that there are a couple of issues swirling around here:
1) The rising cost of college means that people need a cheaper option, but the increasing complexities of our economy mean that less education won’t cut it.
2) The knowledge-based economy, while complex and fast-paced, maybe doesn’t match up as well with the classic liberal arts curriculum as it once did, so maybe there needs to be a more flexible, differently-focused approach to higher learning.
3) Kids are maturing at a different rate (some more than others). Blame the Internet or bovine growth hormone or whatever, but there are a lot of polished 19 year olds out there that are achieving in a way that folks in their 20’s aren’t. In fact, in today’s NYT, there’s even talk of making it easier for 10th graders to start taking college courses.
Of course, I’m sensitive to the counterarguments in the Newsweek article that, “Hey, what’s the rush? College isn’t just about preparing the workforce and cramming in as much knowledge as possible in as short amount of time as possible. It’s about growing up and being in an academic environment and a once in a lifetime chance to be young and join the Glee Club (or whatever it is that kids who weren’t nerds like me did in college).” And that luxury is something that I’m grateful for. But not everyone can afford that luxury nor is it necessary for everyone.
The number one priority needs to be making sure that our citizens are prepared for the opportunities – both intellectually and emotionally – that the economy has to offer, and that is going to be a different path for different people. A little flexibility, provided to the right kids, can have a big impact.