Sunday, October 25, 2009

Three and Out

Senator Lamar Alexander, former President of the U of Tennesee (and US presidential candidate), thinks higher education ought to be completed in three years. His big arguments for this are that education is expensive and a three year degree is somehow the analogous to the hybrid automobile. Or at least that's how I understood his Newsweek essay.

It's hard for me to see that four years is too long for a college education. Pretty clearly though, there are vast differences in what one is expected to learn for, say, an EE degree from Caltech and a basket weaving degree from Nowhere City College.

It is clear that there are some serious diseases in US college education, notably the rapid run up in cost. I have never seen a convincing reason for the rate of inflation of college costs.

My guess is that we do give students too many choices. I would favor programs with less choice and more rigor for most students.

Other education officials writing in the same issue suggest that we have a severe problem with our high schools, which is about to get much worse as the No Child Left Behind generation reaches college age. The total focus on just two aspects of education, reading and writing, and only the most basic skills of each, they claim is producing a cohort of otherwise able students who have never been challenged and who know no history, science, or literature.