Friday, March 25, 2011

The Dark Side of Choice in Higher Education.

MARCH 25, 2011, 8:00 AM

The Dark Side of Choice in Higher Education

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.

1 comment:

  1. I have met students at the university I attend who could, in all likelihood, use a more structured system in which they are told to take this and that each semester with maybe a class or two of their own choosing. Yes, given the numerous classes here some undoubtedly feel overwhelmed. There is, however, a detailed list of requirements for each and every major that is VERY easy to find with or without the aid of an advisor. My university also has an online program which will show exactly what you are missing to graduate and lead you in the right direction.

    There is choice to be found in (most of) the majors where a certain number of classes must be at the X level and at least # from the Y level, etc. If anything this forces students (including me) to sit down and think about what we would enjoy while trying to meet the requirements. There are core requirements for each of the respective "colleges" here and there has been talk of bringing in a general education requirement (1 Science class per year, 1 Math class per year, etc.) which would add structure and make many students vexed with being forced to take more classes they are not interested in. At least with choice I can go through and choose ones I will want to learn about and wish to excel in. It seems to me that removing choice will diminish the will to learn in many students and result poorer results.

    As the article mentioned, taking away choice will also be babying the upcoming generation into expecting the world to be a nice, organized place where they just have to follow the list and it’ll all work out. If some students can’t figure out what to do with their lives or what classes to take then it is saddening. But hey, not having someone at the local ice cream shop to scoop me ice cream is also saddening.


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