Monday, August 19, 2013

A Modest Proposal for a College Curriculum

There has been a lot of talk over the past few years about the "bubble" in college tuition and whether college is "worth it." Most disturbing are reports that suggest that most college students don't work terribly hard and consequently don't learn much during their college years, while accumulating vast amounts of debt. For example of this talk, see here, here, and here.

I agree that it is a dubious proposition that anything with fewer than 3 bedrooms and a yard is worth $250,000, which is what tuition, room, and board can run you at a 4-year private college. It is pretty crazy that a bank will loan you that much money as long as you tell them you want to use it to hang around a pretty campus for four years, make friends, use Facebook while sitting in a lecture hall with 300 other "students," get drunk 3 to 5 nights a week, and avoid reading or writing anything longer than this blogpost. Try asking a bank for a quarter million dollars so you can buy a 55' sailboat. At least at the end of four years you'll still have a sailboat, instead of just something to put down in Education section of your Starbucks application.

A "return to rigor" in the college experience is certainly in order. College graduates should differ from non-graduates in more ways than just their projected lifetime earnings, SAT scores, and high school GPAs. They should actually know things that non-grads do not, and they should behave in ways that non-grads do not. In my view, a college graduate should be readily discernible from the non-grad in his appearance, presentation, manner of speech, work habits, leisure activities, physical fitness, morals, and social relations. Graduates should be different from when they matriculated four years earlier. College itself should not be a repetition of high school, nor should it be a five-year party. College, while preparing one for life, should not focus primarily on preparing one for a specific career. (This is not to say that I am opposed to undergraduate preprofessional training in engineering, nursing, or computer science -- but these programs train; they do not educate.)

The program I am proposing will not suit everyone, nor is it intended to do so. But I imagine that were an existing college to reconfigure itself along the lines that I propose, it would be well-positioned to survive the anticipated higher education market meltdown. In a crisis, people seek out quality.

The obvious model for this program is St. John's College (Annapolis/Santa Fe), which is where I would study, if I had it all to do over again. However, you could pursue this course of study, or something very close to it, at many colleges, within their existing curricula, should you choose to do so. The program would be superb preparation for almost any career (except the technical careers mentioned above) and, if you took organic chemistry during the summer between your junior and senior years, fulfills all the traditional pre-requisities for medical school.

Year 1
Year 2
Drawing I
Western Art I
Western Art II
Biology I
Biology II
Chemistry I
Chemistry II
Books I
Books II
Great Books III
Great Books IV
Mathematical Investigations I
Mathematical Investigations II
Calculus I
Calculus II
Greek I
Greek II
Ancient Greek III
Ancient Greek IV

Year 3
Year 4
Speech I
Speech II
Drawing II
Physics I
Physics II
Great Books V
Great Books VI
Books VII
Books VIII
Statistics I
Statistics II
Economics I
Economics II

If the Art courses are 2 credit hours, the Science courses are 4 credit hours, the Seminars are 6 credit hours, and the Math/Econ and Language courses are 3 credit hours, that's 18 credit hours a semester (18 x 8 semesters = 144 hrs to graduate).

There are no "majors." However, you pick up 32 hours of science courses; add the 6 credits of calculus (and the summer coursework in organic chem) and that constitutes a solid pre-med major. The seminars (6 x 8 semesters = 48 credit hours) are an admixture of literature, philosophy, and history. Perhaps students could choose a focus for a major writing project during their final year and that would determine whether their degree will be in literature, philosophy, or history. Essentially, everyone graduates with a double-major in the Arts and in the Sciences.

I will elaborate on details of the program in subsequent posts:

Freshman Year

No Latin?

What about athletics?

The end product

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