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Speedy Students?

Speedy Students?

A while back I wrote on this theme, but I was newly intrigued by a recent Washington Post editorial urging colleges to accelerate their offerings so that students might be able to finish up in three years. Some schools, including George Mason, have indeed identified fast track options. In our case, we emphasize not only the use of relevant credits earned before college — for example through AP and IB — but also intelligent utilization of summer school including distance offerings. And we do have some students who get through easily in a three year span, often doing well in the process.

But it’s important to note that most students who are presented with this possibility do not choose to take it. They may have credits, but they still stay in for 120 more. Some may simply be tradition bound. Some may seek to prolong the social pleasures of college life. Some definitely want to experiment a bit intellectually, and/or change majors, or tack on an additional field. Some, of course, also work while in college and find this preferable to maximum acceleration. Some, implicitly, may be saying that their precollege preparation was not always that great, and they want to be sure they’re ready.

We have a lot more luck, in this context, in getting students into 3-1-1 accelerated Masters programs, where after five years, thanks to a challenging senior year, they have the more advanced degree along with the Bachelors.

All of this means, in turn, that there’s a certain gap between political actors, who would love to see college accelerated to relieve state budgets, and actual students and, presumably, most of their parents. There may be a gap, as well, between any acceleration push and the real learning achievements students need, which may not be as compressible as some might desire, particularly given our checkered secondary school system.

None of this means that we should not be open to alternative paths — and again my university does advise on options — but patterns may not be as quickly malleable as some might assume, and for more than simply hidebound reasons.