The latest of the new higher education experience; streamlining transfer degrees and completion. Streamlining degrees is seeing a buzz of activity in education leadership these days. I get a number of complaints from faculty about the new direction higher education is taking in streamlining degrees. What is this about they ask? Weren’t we already doing this right to begin with? Now students are not getting everything they need before graduating, they worry. They are not well prepared, really? Have you heard these conversations and wondered about this?
Let me share a few thoughts about this.
One this idea of streamlining the degrees and the amount of unit’s students take has been brewing for a long while now. We as a nation have struggled with units from one college not being accepted at another college and students having to repeat those courses that did not transfer. This is one component of the challenge.
Two, this idea was a cold water to the face wakeup call when looking at the enormous debt in financial aid owed by our citizens in America. People were coming out of their education with large debts that took years to pay off. Debt larger than the cost of a nice home in some cases. Others much lower more like the cost of a nice car. It was one thing to have debt if you graduate, but if you don’t graduate, and still have this debt but no job to pay it off with, the challenge was even larger. As some wise minds researched the situation it was found that much of the debt could be avoided by taking less classes and improving the remaining classes to include the essentials. Streamlining education to its essentials is the goal. Thus the faculty concern that students are not getting enough to prepare themselves in their various fields. Remember faculty care that students have a good education not just a degree.
Furthermore it was discovered that the majority of students took 3 to 5 years to get through the first two years of a community college education. Those going solely to a University to get bachelors were spending at best 5 years to gain the 4-year degree with most taking longer. Why is it taking students so long to get through what is supposed to be a four year education to achieve a bachelors or a two year education to achieve an Associates? The answer varies by individuals but generally half of our college going students in America are taking basic skills classes to raise themselves to college level which can take a year or longer. The halves that are prepared to enter college are often taking more units than needed to transfer or to graduate. And several of those in both halves drop classes or fail classes that means they have to repeat them. Repeating classes adds up in time and expenses. Others don’t fit into any of these areas, they simply don’t take a full load each semester or quarter as they work their way through school or care for their families. For this later group even going slowly is still getting them to their end goal of graduation and an education. Bravo to perseverance and motivation!
The basic skills preparedness for college is well, what it is. Some students are leaving High Schools underprepared for college. Often not recognizing the opportunities they are missing with their excellent High School instructors. The reasons vary from peer pressure and being more concerned about their socializing, to not having good study habits, to not having the study time because they work to support their families in addition to going to school. Language may also be a barrier for those where English is their second language. For these people the solution is to focus on developing their skills to be ready for college level classes and then go from there. So what if it adds a year or two to their education. It is worth it in the end.
The dropping classes or failing class’s scenario is a challenge that each student needs to try to avoid. If you can’t maintain a full load each semester or quarter than take it slower but do not fail or drop classes. I’ve witnessed students dropping and failing classes simply because they didn’t try. They didn’t put in the study time, use the resources at the college to help tutor them through the difficult areas, give up the social life long enough to do their homework, show up for class on time and regularly. I have also witnessed students drop classes or stop attending because they didn’t like the teacher. This is the worst scenario in my opinion. Never let any one teacher get in the way of your goals. If you don’t like the teacher speak with the Dean. Perhaps you can be move into a different teacher’s class. If not maybe it is about persevering anyway. Use these moments as an opportunity to practice how to survive a boss you may not like in the future. Tell yourself you don’t have to enjoy every moment as long as your goals are reached. Look for what is good about that teacher. For example: the lecture is thorough, the person knows a lot that you do not already know, they give test that you can study for and be successful even if not excited, the class is only how many weeks long? It isn’t a lifetime. You are not being slapped upside the head right? How bad is it anyway? Try these conversations on yourself and see if you can’t find a way to keep your eyes on the prize to complete each and every class you sign up for. Last tip: I learned a lot about how to not teach from some of these teachers. Which actually made me a better teacher. We can all learn from the negative as well as the positive.
The last scenario is taking too many classes/units, which slows down your graduation date. In my experience as a dean of multiple areas I can tell you it is the languages and the arts that express the most concern with these expedited degrees. They argue that students are not getting enough training to be successful. My argument in return is that there are never enough classes to fully prepare our students for their chosen careers in the arts and languages. The biggest part of their learning will happen after they graduate and start applying the skills they learn in their careers. Education through the Bachelor degree is meant to get us ready for our fields. No one said a Bachelor degree is going to make a scholarly expert out of any of us. That is what Masters and Doctorate programs are designed to prepare us for. The Associate and Bachelor program will always leave us wanting a bit more in our exposure to our fields of study. We need to accept this reality.
Over my years, I have worked with many teams creating entire new education programs for students. Together we would design each and every class of an Associate or Bachelor program. What they would need from year 1 through 4. Inevitably we would be left feeling like we wanted to plug in at least 3 to 7 more classes. This is partially due to the experts experience they want students to gain. Forgetting they didn’t know all of that when they started in their fields. It can also be an outcome of trying to put in all the general education requirements leaving not enough time for the main topic of your career choice. This reason is one of the reasons we have specific career and technical schools, design and language schools. In those specific career directed educations the general education is less demanding so that more time can be spent on the main topic of study. At a Community College or University general education takes up more of the students course requirements.
Are you wondering why so much General Education in our Community Colleges and Universities. Not to worry, it is a good thing, really! General education offers a breadth of knowledge across multiple disciplines, Sociology, Psychology, Health, Philosophy, History, Political Science, Economics, Human Development, Biology, Anthropology, Geology, Geography, Speech/Communications, Science, Math, and English Composition and the Arts are the main areas. It is considered by educators that an introduction of some depth into each of these areas assist in creating well rounded citizens that have a broad understanding of the world in which they live. A well-educated person has been exposed to the insightfulness of a broad general education.
Schools that are career based in Design, Arts, Languages, and etc. do still have general education requirements. However, they often contextualize the courses to be of optimum relationship to the subject being studied. This is a well-practiced education method. For many in the arts they don’t want to study outside their subject area. If you feel this way than a career directed specialized education is a great way to go. You will end up making up for any loss of the breadth of general education from a University setting by being an active citizen, reading the news, participating in your government, studying new languages, traveling, and experiencing life after school. Not to worry if you choose this route.
Overall, our education leaders and our politicians are actually trying to help education. They are trying to fix a system that has struggled for many years for students financially and in regards to their timely graduation. This is not, from my experience and research, a conspiracy to minimize education offerings. No one wants to create an uninformed citizenry. We simply want students to learn and leave on to their careers with as little debt as possible. Especially considering the ever-increasing price of education.
Remember your education through Bachelors is not the end. You have a lifetime to continue learning on the job, in life, and continuing to take classes. Hopefully, you will also move on toward a Masters and Doctorate.
In closing: Keep your eyes on the prize…Stay focused, don’t fail or drop classes unless absolutely necessary, and complete that degree.
Hope this helps.
Next time, I’ll write about how to manage a grievance between a teacher and a student. I’ll share both sides of how to prepare and address your concerns.