LA TIMES: Professors question traditional four-year residential college model

Career College Central Summary:

  • One of the greatest presumptions in U.S. higher education is that a traditional undergraduate degree, earned in four years while living on or near campus, is a good way to prepare young people to get a job and become well-rounded thinkers, at least according to Mitchell Stevens.
  • Stevens, a Stanford University education professor, argues that large, prestigious universities like his are too slow to adjust to changing times.
  • He lists the problems he sees: undergraduates who don't learn much, according to some studies; costs that can be astronomical; and increasing evidence that colleges struggle to deal with sexual assaults.
  • "It's not a pretty picture," he said.
  • "We are in a golden age for U.S. higher education, but it is only for a very small number of highly endowed and internationally visible research universities," Stevens said. "In terms of prestige, academic selectivity, and endowments, we are moving ever closer to a winner-take-all system."
  • Although many upper-middle-class Americans still think that dropping off their children at a dorm freshman year is the best way for them to learn, fewer and fewer students actually go to school full time and live on campus, Stevens said.
  • About 57% of all first-year undergraduates attended two-year colleges in 2008, according to a book co-edited by Stevens. In fall 1988, about 39% of students attended community colleges, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics.
  • "Remaking College: The Changing Ecology of Higher Education," which Stevens edited with fellow Stanford professor Michael Kirst, questions the four-year college path that evolved after World War II. The authors advocate for a more flexible model that is based less on the Ivy League and more on for-profit colleges.

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