Preparing for College

What If . . .

I daydream a lot.

I'm blessed to have a scenic office view from second-floor windows that look out on grass, woods, and—especially this autumn—some of the most spectacular Technicolor foliage I've ever seen. Trust me; a window with a view inspires daydreaming.

So, I got to pondering America's higher education process—what it offers and its results. Then I thought, “What if there were no course requirements or required majors at all our colleges and universities?" You know; what if incoming students would all be free to design their own academic programs? What would the long-rage result be?

I often wonder how many high school seniors apply to college every year, get their acceptances, make their enrollment decisions, and then leave home for college having exactly no idea what they want to do with their lives. If you're a college graduate, think about what you would have done had there been no hard course requirements (or core curriculum, as they call it).

Don't get me wrong. I'm a big advocate of the liberal arts approach when it comes to so-called distribution requirements. As I mentioned in a previous discourse, I now wish that I could go back and retake some of those required courses that I pretty much blew off when I was at Penn State. No doubt, I'd have to dig out my transcript to recall all of them, since my brain has suppressed what was then at best boredom and at worst arduous intellectual torture. It's interesting how decades of life perspective can add appeal to things once despised.

Anyhow, I wonder if there would be an adequate number of engineers, scientists, future doctors, lawyers, bankers, etc. graduate if there were no course requirements. The precondition, though, would be that all the departmental offerings currently out there would remain. And that brings up another possible domino effect: departmental survival. For example, would anthropology departments be able to stay in business if students weren't required to take anthy courses? Maybe lesser active departments would just get smaller instead of disappear.

I suppose that in this fantasy world the number of course hours would remain relatively the same. It would be interesting to track the patterns of student course choices. Would they pig out first and exhaust all their favorites up front and then have to take “lesser" courses as juniors and seniors? Would they be balanced and sprinkle self-selected “requirements" across their four or so years?

My plan would be to load up on music history and writing courses first, then shop the catalog for balance, courses that would fill in some intellectual gaps (which in my case appear to be about the size of the Grand Canyon). I'm guessing that the technically minded would chart a path across the appropriate background-building classes. Of course, there would be advisors available to help the clueless, but not prescribe hard requirements.

That's my daydream. What if it were so? What would your degree program look like?

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