Recently, Education Week posted an article entitled “Completing College in Four Years is a “Myth.” In the piece, writer Caralee Adams cites various statistics claiming that virtually no one is actually completing their post-secondary degrees within the anticipated four years.
The numbers don’t lie—it appears that we do have a problem with higher education. And while I can’t argue with the facts, I must admit that as a fairly recent college graduate, I find these numbers very, very surprising.
In my own (albeit, limited) experience, graduating within four years is not only feasible, but overwhelmingly common. Of the many people with whom I interacted during my four years at UCLA, I can name only a handful who took extra time to complete their degrees.
Now, this is not to say that my friends and I are a perfect sample, nor are we necessarily typical of the American college student. Many of us took extra classes during summer or loaded up on courses during the school year.
However, I myself did not choose a major until the end of my sophomore year (the very last minute possible) and still managed to graduate within four years.
Thus, to me, decrying this as a widespread and deeply ingrained problem seems a little extreme.
In her piece, Ms. Adams advocates a prescribed set of courses per semester to remedy this unsustainable trend. While her solution is well intentioned, I think that required classes would stifle the creative thought and academic enthusiasm that so often characterizes the college campus.
Sure, Ms. Adams is correct in her claim that students do earn credits that are unrelated to their degrees and that undoubtedly does add to their days until graduation. However, an education is not a means to an end and a degree is not the only valuable result of college. Students should be encouraged to take courses they enjoy, courses that broaden their intellectual horizons and enhance their educational experience—not just courses that will further their degrees.
I worry that Ms. Adams’ solution would transform the centers of higher thinking and innovation that we know and love into simple degree factories, complete with assembly lines to mold mind after mind into identical forms.
While I do think it’s important to create a four-year plan, it’s also important to leave room for extra courses and flexibility. Additionally, few people enter college with a fully formed idea of what they’d like to study, so picking courses for every semester of college can be an overwhelming, even an impossible task. Though it’s important not to overspend on your degree, it’s also important to explore new knowledge.
Among my peers, completing a college degree within four years has been a doable, engaging learning process and I wouldn’t trade it for any stable, rock-solid four-year map.
This was a guest post by Molly Cornfield, a UCLA graduate.