In December, University of Missouri President Gary Forsee proposed a 3-year “no-frills” bachelors degree to reduce college costs.
Several national figures, including Senator Lamar Alexander, have proposed that students can save money by getting their bachelors degree in three years. But that plan calls for a good student to immediately enter college the summer after graduating high school and complete the full 120+ credit hours in three academic years and summers in-between. That is a full bachelors degree done on the run.
The Missouri proposal appears to be a cheap degree, three-fourths of a bachelors degree. According to media reports, there are a ”growing number of schools considering three-year undergraduate degrees to reduce college costs.” Details are scanty. And since “we want a CHEAP degree” doesn’t gain much political traction, other arguments are being put forth.
“Bachelors degrees in Europe only take three years” is one argument. These advocates fail to look at the longer preparation students receive in European public schools. Unlike our 12 years of elementary and high school, most European and Commonwealth schools use a primary and “upper form” system that total 13 years. Therefore, their 13-plus-3 years of education puts them at the same number of years of education as our 12-plus-4.
However, the European public school day and school year are both longer. Foreign students study more content and they study it sooner. As a result, when American students exchange with Japanese or German students grade-for-grade, the American students find themselves years behind and struggle while the foreign students in America are grades ahead and can coast. While they recognize that American K-12 schools are not very strong, the world still considers our university programs to be the best in the world. A cheap 3-year bachelors degree will change that.
Just what would be cut from an American bachelors degree? There are several schemes floating about but the one with most traction eliminates all that pesky general education coursework. Some commentators suggest ditching art and music appreciation, golf, and the commonly derided but nonexistent “basket-weaving.” Indeed, ditch everything but courses in the major. “Why do I have to learn about a Grecian urn?” they ask? They want pure job-training.
But over 60 percent of college students change their major at least once. One function of “gen ed” is to give students wider experiences to find the career they really want. Eliminating “gen ed” turns universities into tech schools.
Another problem with a cheap “3-years bachelors” is that it will de-value the real bachelor degrees that have been earned by millions of students in bonafide programs over the years. This very month, the Chronicle of Higher Education is addressing whether the U.S. lead in university level education will soon end. Proposals such as this so-called “no-frills” 3-year bachelors degree will cheapen an American college degree in a very short time.
The breadth of general education courses undergirds skills in all fields. The employee of the future is more likely to make a substantial job change at least once in his or her life. It is those general education skills in writing, math, history, and yes, music and art, that workers will fall back on in the job market. Narrow education is risky. A solid general education is a student’s vocational insurance policy.
Finally, education is not only for make a living.
—To have a life when we come home from making a living.
—To have a sense of history.
—To know what is alive in the thought of the day.
If you get a job-training degree, what do you do after your job is over? A cheap bachelors degree leaves you with little to do after retirement besides watch Wheel of Fortune. That should sober up anyone.