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Author Topic: Why Must College Be Four Years?  (Read 4104 times)
betterslac
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« Reply #15 on: December 25, 2012, 1:15:08 AM »

My daughter cleared a year of college with AP.  I'm not sure that I think that AP equals a college class, however. 

I can only speak of my own field, but the AP History exam is largely worthless as preparation for college level history.  The students come away from the exam having memorized a bunch of trivia, but these tests do nothing as far as preparing them for the higher order thinking and writing skills they need to progress in the major. They're more like what one expects from high school courses, which also, seldom constitute real history classes, but rather watered down trivia. 

I'm an AP grader for US government, and the AP test does not come anywhere near what I give as tests for a freshman or sophomore level American National government course, and from the level of writing and analysis on the test, I gather that the writing assignments are nowhere close to what I give. To some degree, that is to be expected-- students in high school for the most part haven't fully developed the analytical parts of their brains, nor as reelprof noted, undertaken the intellectual journey that allows one to engage fully with college level material.
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mouseman
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« Reply #16 on: December 25, 2012, 3:43:41 AM »

In Israel undergraduate degrees are 3 years.  My own undergrad degree from Hebrew University took 3 years.  Of course, the course load is somewhat heavy - I was doing about 25-27 credits a semester.  Credits were counted about the same as here (1 weekly lecture hour = 2 lab/discussion hours = 1 semester credit hour; two semesters a year).

My undergrad degree in Biology was 145 credits (initially they wanted 155 but it was dropped to 145 after my second year, now it's 144), and most other degrees needed 134 credits.  This is still true, though there are now some degrees that need up to 171 credits (e.g., double major CS + physics).  Science students also have to take English and pass proficiency tests to get their degree, and they do not get credit for those 2-3 semester hours (I tested out in the first year - thank you parents!).

Yes, I had to walk to class uphill in the snow both ways (which was quite a feat considering that it only snows a couple of days a year in Jerusalem).  But seriously, degrees take 4 years here because most four year schools are are trying to create an "undergraduate experience".  The philosophy is that an undergrad degree is more than just academics.  In Hebrew University the philosophy was, and is, that the undergraduate degree is really only academics.  If you want students to participate in non-academic university activities, than 16 semester credits is a lot.  If students are expected to do only academic work at the university, students can do 27 semester credits and still have a part time job.  There is also the attitude toward students.  In The USA, students are considered children, and therefore should not spend more than 30 hours a week doing stuff that is considered "work" (lectures + labs + homework), while in Israel, students are considered adults, and therefore they are expected to put in at least a normal work week (45+ hours).  The is justification for both these attitudes, since 18 year olds just out of highschool are children, while 22 year olds who have been through military service are adults.

Personally, considering the age and background of most USA undergrads, I think that the USA way is better.  I think that college/university should be a way to ease people into the real world, not a place where you dump the real world on their head as soon as they enter.
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polly_mer
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« Reply #17 on: December 25, 2012, 8:18:39 AM »

In The USA, students are considered children, and therefore should not spend more than 30 hours a week doing stuff that is considered "work" (lectures + labs + homework), while in Israel, students are considered adults, and therefore they are expected to put in at least a normal work week (45+ hours). 

For the record, not all USA undergraduate experiences are like that.  I know of no engineering programs where students are only expected to do only 30 hours per week.  Those students are generally expected to put in work weeks of 45+ hours.  The rule I was taught in engineering school is 3 hours outside of class for every hour in class, which is 72 hours per week for the 18 credits we were supposed to carry to graduate in 4 years.  Few people put in more than 60 hours a week (many of us only carried 15 credits a term and accepted summer school or extra semesters), but people who whined about the workload were told the guideline and asked if they were spending more than 72 hours a week on schoolwork.
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yemaya
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« Reply #18 on: December 25, 2012, 8:43:38 AM »

In The USA, students are considered children, and therefore should not spend more than 30 hours a week doing stuff that is considered "work" (lectures + labs + homework), while in Israel, students are considered adults, and therefore they are expected to put in at least a normal work week (45+ hours). 

For the record, not all USA undergraduate experiences are like that.  I know of no engineering programs where students are only expected to do only 30 hours per week.  Those students are generally expected to put in work weeks of 45+ hours.  The rule I was taught in engineering school is 3 hours outside of class for every hour in class, which is 72 hours per week for the 18 credits we were supposed to carry to graduate in 4 years.  Few people put in more than 60 hours a week (many of us only carried 15 credits a term and accepted summer school or extra semesters), but people who whined about the workload were told the guideline and asked if they were spending more than 72 hours a week on schoolwork.

That's been the rule of thumb everywhere I've ever taught too. 

The 3-year degrees are different because 1.) most international students have a 13th year of school before college and the students are arguably more well rounded before they start school (I'd like to see more of a basic literacy in things like math, science, history, etc among students before dismissing the general ed courses entirely) 2.) these programs tend to be much more focused on the student's major.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each.  If the student is fully set on what they want to do when they grow up, then a three year program makes a lot of sense.  (For instance, most of the engineers I've known are pretty committed to the engineering program when they matriculate at college, though sometimes their exact specialization changes.)  If not, well then it makes sense for them either to take more of a general curriculum to expose them to more options and help them decide what they'd like to do, or to take time off between secondary school and higher ed.  (Which is a cultural no-no here in much of the US, but perfectly acceptable in a lot of other parts of the world.)


My daughter cleared a year of college with AP.  I'm not sure that I think that AP equals a college class, however. 

I can only speak of my own field, but the AP History exam is largely worthless as preparation for college level history.  The students come away from the exam having memorized a bunch of trivia, but these tests do nothing as far as preparing them for the higher order thinking and writing skills they need to progress in the major. They're more like what one expects from high school courses, which also, seldom constitute real history classes, but rather watered down trivia. 

I'm an AP grader for US government, and the AP test does not come anywhere near what I give as tests for a freshman or sophomore level American National government course, and from the level of writing and analysis on the test, I gather that the writing assignments are nowhere close to what I give. To some degree, that is to be expected-- students in high school for the most part haven't fully developed the analytical parts of their brains, nor as reelprof noted, undertaken the intellectual journey that allows one to engage fully with college level material.

It's absolutely true that many high school students haven't fully developed the analytical parts of their brains, but at the same time, they're often not even pushed to.  So much is about memorizing and the "right" answer. I think that standardized testing undermines preparedness for college, but that's just my opinion.  I'm starting to see more History Departments that won't accept AP credit, and that's a good thing.  I've never seen an AP student (and I've seen some perfectly bright ones) that have the equivalent of a History survey.




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polly_mer
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« Reply #19 on: December 25, 2012, 9:11:54 AM »

The 3-year degrees are different because 1.) most international students have a 13th year of school before college and the students are arguably more well rounded before they start school (I'd like to see more of a basic literacy in things like math, science, history, etc among students before dismissing the general ed courses entirely) 2.) these programs tend to be much more focused on the student's major.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each.  If the student is fully set on what they want to do when they grow up, then a three year program makes a lot of sense.
<snip>
It's absolutely true that many high school students haven't fully developed the analytical parts of their brains, but at the same time, they're often not even pushed to.  So much is about memorizing and the "right" answer. I think that standardized testing undermines preparedness for college, but that's just my opinion.  I'm starting to see more History Departments that won't accept AP credit, and that's a good thing.  I've never seen an AP student (and I've seen some perfectly bright ones) that have the equivalent of a History survey.

Yemaya makes good points here.  One thing that irks some of our UK forumites to no end is the differences in preparation and purposes between the US system and the UK and other European systems.  People in the US generally don't even have the option to specialize prior to college unless they attend a magnet school.  While some high schools in the US do have tracks or multiple levels of subjects to reach different audiences, often the "honors" courses merely means "students taking this intend to go to college right after high school", not "plans to major in this subject and is getting the appropriate foundations laid".  The exact requirements for high school graduation vary state to state, but most of them are a smorgasbord of compromises that please no one* in some effort to impart a minimal general education.

That's in direct contrast to systems where secondary school requires choosing a specialization so that students are pushed to doing the things that make them ready for a major right away in college.  Under that system, I suspect that few people go to university with a major of undecided, unlike in the US where some colleges have undecided as one of the largest entering majors.  Knowing why one is in college also helps reduce the time to degree instead of trying a bunch of things for perhaps years before deciding on something or leaving with a general studies degree or nothing.




*For example, my state requires demonstrating algebra I proficiency for high school graduation, yet many of our only-a-summer-between-high-school-and-college students do not place at rates that indicate a proficiency with algebra I.
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kaysixteen
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« Reply #20 on: December 25, 2012, 10:02:03 AM »

Good thread.  This really will be a stream-of-consciousness jumble of responses to a wide variety of points made by a wide variety of posters:

1) like it or not, we really do make hs kids in this country do more in hs now than in prior generations, and the competition for college entrance, at least for 'selective' schools, is much greater.  But hs kids are if anything else, for a variety of reasons, less mature than in prior eras, and we should not be shoving even more stuff on them, let alone encouraging more of them to leave hs early

2) i get that a kid can take cc-style courses whilst still in hs, but how many of these courses are at the level of rigor equivalent courses for freshmen and sophs at elite slacs or R1s would be? 

3) there is and will remain a great deal to say for the whole-orbed traditional slacy undergrad experience in this country, for those students who can properly take advantage thereof, and it would not really do to push kids to complete more courses more quickly, just to get them through more quickly, esp. if the motive were largely a financial one.  It would be better to find some way to get the costs of college under control.

4) most hs-aged adolescents are not ready, and should not be ready, to specialize in some field which would presumably later become their college major field.  Good slacy and traditional ivy-style schools have traditionally not required students even to have a major declared going into one's freshman year-- indeed, it is an integral part of the overall well-rounded liberal arts experience for underclassmen, esp. freshmen, to explore a wide variety of disciplines, the better to decide what they really want to pursue after they have vastly greater maturity and accumulated academic experience.
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spork
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« Reply #21 on: December 25, 2012, 10:13:25 AM »

Re: yemaya's, and polly's, rule of thumb -- this is the paradigm around which the undergraduate curriculum in the USA is structured, but very few 18-22 year old undergraduates here are spending 3 hours studying for every 1 hour spent in the classroom. A lot of that time where students are not studying goes toward the "undergraduate experience" discussed by mouseman and/or working part-time, per k16's point #3.
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polly_mer
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« Reply #22 on: December 25, 2012, 10:20:41 AM »

4) most hs-aged adolescents are not ready, and should not be ready, to specialize in some field which would presumably later become their college major field.  Good slacy and traditional ivy-style schools have traditionally not required students even to have a major declared going into one's freshman year-- indeed, it is an integral part of the overall well-rounded liberal arts experience for underclassmen, esp. freshmen, to explore a wide variety of disciplines, the better to decide what they really want to pursue after they have vastly greater maturity and accumulated academic experience.

That's not a problem even in many STEM fields if students are getting the kind of solid liberal arts education that those schools have as their missions (*cough* calculus is generally required and passed *cough*)

That's a huge problem for the people who are somehow in college and cannot do algebra I or write a grammatically correct opinion paper.  Those people cannot benefit very much from a curriculum that's a mile wide and an inch deep because they haven't had the benefit of being guided in practice thinking and learning without being spoonfed.  

The students who go to good slacy and traditional ivy-style schools usually are people who are ready to think, but need more input to think new thoughts, not students who are certain that education is mostly about memorizing an answer and being good at following directions.  

One of the saddest parts of my job is being the first person in an A student's life to insist that science is about applying methods and being able to draw conclusions from data instead of memorizing all the laws and following the recipes on how to solve common problems.  Sometimes the student rises to the occasion, but often the student insists that I am wrong because of the years of experience of getting A's for being a good parrot.
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kaysixteen
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« Reply #23 on: December 25, 2012, 10:36:26 AM »

Polly_mer has a good series of points, sadly.  Most American hs kids will not be heading to one of those elite schools and should be adequately prepped for the schools they will be attending, but many of those A students are being significantly undereducated and underprepared in poor hs programs.  I know that most hs kids will not get the elite private hs education that we give our kids in our school.  I do not know how to get more competent teaching and curricula in the average hs, but get it there we must.  Of course, as with attitudes towards gun control and related issues, the average American adult has to WANT to do that...
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polly_mer
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« Reply #24 on: December 25, 2012, 11:45:32 AM »

I do not know how to get more competent teaching and curricula in the average hs, but get it there we must.  Of course, as with attitudes towards gun control and related issues, the average American adult has to WANT to do that...

What would happen if we had a math test to buy ammunition?  Sorry, your level of proficiency only gets you some wadded-up wet paper suitable for a straw.  You can have shotgun shells if you can figure out how many gallons of paint are needed to paint the house.  To get ammo for your SKS, I'm going to have to see you integrate by parts.

Even though I'm not generally in favor of gun control laws, I'm willing to try desperate measures to increase math proficiency among the general public.  The guns are already out so getting that genie back in the bottle doesn't work, but ammunition might be easier to slow the flow.
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oldfullprof
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« Reply #25 on: December 25, 2012, 1:35:04 PM »

To get ammo for your SKS, I'm going to have to see you integrate by parts.

Yes, and also have them stop storing SKSs by sticking them in the front lawn with the folding bayonet...
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yemaya
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« Reply #26 on: December 26, 2012, 11:08:53 AM »

Re: yemaya's, and polly's, rule of thumb -- this is the paradigm around which the undergraduate curriculum in the USA is structured, but very few 18-22 year old undergraduates here are spending 3 hours studying for every 1 hour spent in the classroom. A lot of that time where students are not studying goes toward the "undergraduate experience" discussed by mouseman and/or working part-time, per k16's point #3.


True, but I plan out the work I assign based on that paradigm.  There may be some very bright students in my discipline who can successfully complete the work more quickly, just as it may take longer for some students.  Certainly, the students with remedial skills are going to take longer.  Ultimately, it's up to the students to figure out how to manage their work load.  If they need to work, play sports, etc it's their responsibility to figure out how to manage their time and/or to ensure that they're not overloading themselves, including choosing to attend part time if that's what the can reasonably manage along with their other obligations. If a student choses to goof off, then they get to deal with any negative consequences from those choices.   
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yemaya
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« Reply #27 on: December 26, 2012, 11:28:04 AM »

Sorry for the double post.  Timed out while editing.

Polly_mer has a good series of points, sadly.  Most American hs kids will not be heading to one of those elite schools and should be adequately prepped for the schools they will be attending, but many of those A students are being significantly undereducated and underprepared in poor hs programs.  I know that most hs kids will not get the elite private hs education that we give our kids in our school.  I do not know how to get more competent teaching and curricula in the average hs, but get it there we must.  Of course, as with attitudes towards gun control and related issues, the average American adult has to WANT to do that...

I think that there are some problems that are unanswerable without some pretty significant cultural changes in the US.  There are the class divides that you eluded to in your post above - not all K-12 systems are equal.  There is also a focus on fairly worthless standardized testing that does nothing but fatten the wallets of those who design standardized tests and dumb down the curriculum.  But the US is so obsessed with standardized testing as a measure of "accountability," that's not going to die easily.  There's no accountability for students who chose not to do their work, and their enabling parents who refuse to make their kids buckle down, but then blame teachers for their lack of progress.  Plus, more would need to be done both to make K-12 education attractive to the bright, motivated students and to weed out the dumb, lazy, entitled ones from the education major.  The type of students who show up in Polly's "science for teachers" and whine about how it's too hard to learn the material that they need to master before they can teach it should be told to change their major. 
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britprof
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« Reply #28 on: December 26, 2012, 1:23:49 PM »

In the UK most degrees are completed in three years. This reflects the fact that there are no general education requirements to complete, so students elect their major when applying for a place at university.  During the final two years of high school most students take advanced level qualifications (which are a good deal more advanced than AP), beginning with four subjects in the first year and narrowing down to three in the second year. This means that in terms of subject knowledge and skills UK students are reasonably well prepared for their degree courses.
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kaysixteen
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« Reply #29 on: December 26, 2012, 1:29:14 PM »

Sure, those lazy entitled ed majors should be told to get another major, but who wants to do that?  Who is going to do that?  Parents who allow lazy hs kids to do no work and then blame the teachers, they are going to continue to do that, and who is going to change this?  Indeed, most new American teachers, however competent and enthusiastic they are as they enter the teaching profession, are out of the profession within 5 years, but there are always those newbies coming on up-- this in and of itself would assist some principals and parents to keep on blaming the teachers, as they know there are plenty more of em where that one came from.
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