The Dark Side of Choice in Higher EducationBy JUDITH SCOTT-CLAYTON
Last week, writing on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times, Susan Engel described a small-scale experiment giving high school students greater choice and flexibility over their education. In what was christened the Independent Project, eight students in western Massachusetts designed their own “school within a school,” in which they wrote and then followed their own curriculum.
The project was meant to counter the traditional, highly structured high school experience, which, Ms. Engel argued, “doesn’t just fail to prepare teenagers for graduation or for college academics; it fails to prepare them, in a profound way, for adult life.”
The essay caught my eye because a growing contingent in higher education has begun to worry about just the opposite concern: that college students may have too much choice and flexibility.
So while Ms. Engel suggests that high schools ought to provide more of the freedoms of college, others are suggesting that perhaps colleges ought to provide more of the structure of high school.
Students trying to choose the right courses, for example, may find it prohibitively time-consuming just to acquire all of the relevant information on long-term costs and benefits. Or they may be unsure about what they want to do this semester, let alone the rest of their lives.
Once decisions are made, they may struggle to follow through and may remain doubtful about whether they made the best choice. The result may be that some underprepared college students delay enrollment, select their courses poorly, fail to meet requirements for graduation or a major, or drop out altogether when they encounter an unexpected obstacle.