Across Kansas, college students are returning to spring semester classes. For some, the professor hands out the syllabus, tells them to go buy the textbook, and dismisses class.
Some students say: Whoopee! They should instead stay seated and complain. Education may be the only major enterprise where some recipients are glad to not get their "money’s worth."
We can measure work by the number of work days or work hours that are required to finish the job. Potential learning can be measured the same way. As professors, if we are late two minutes to a class of 30 students, we have wasted one hour of collective potential learning time. Dismiss a huge class of 120 students just five minutes early and we have squandered ten hours of potential learning.
I use the term "potential" because it assumes that the student is alert and paying attention, and that the professor has effective communication skills and engages students.
Most students know that they have been cheated when they pay regular price for a chocolate bar that is now smaller. Such "downsizing" is becoming commonplace. So why are students happy to get a downsized education?
Kansas college students are not getting their educational money’s worth in other ways as well. Kansas Board of Regents policy dropped the minimum number of instructional days on the academic calendar to 146 plus 5 final exam days.
Kansas universities can now have 73 instructional days per semester instead of 75. And bachelors degrees can now have a minimum of 120 credit hours rather than 124. So some Regents schools are trimming their schedules and programs in this "race to the bottom." At many schools, this spring is two days shorter than the spring semester of 2013. That is a loss of 16 days of education per four year degree. Dismissing class early the first day cuts that minimum even one day shorter! That is potentially another 8 days less if every professor dismissed class the first day!
Don’t let any professor off the hook by claiming that the credit hour and instructional days are merely clock hours of "seat time." Learning requires time. A teaching professional is aware of how much educational engagement is minimally required to master the course content. Just put in "seat time" without learning and you will be back in that class next semester repeating seat time. What you are learning is important not only to pass the class exams but also to pass through life, solve problems, write cogent memos, calculate income, etc.
Samuel Mudd (the 1850s medical doctor who set the leg of John Wilkes Booth) had just two years of college. Today, becoming a physician is no sophomore task. And future doctors will need even more education.
For today’s students to succeed in an ever-more-complicated world, colleges have a responsibility to provide students with a robust education. Tomorrow’s students will need to learn even more, not less.
If students don’t want a downsized life, they shouldn’t accept a downsized education.