The Corner


The Case for Offering ‘Specialist’ Degrees

There is much to be said for the traditional American college degree, but it might be sensible for our schools to offer a different sort of learning experience — one that is more focused on coursework the student wants, right away. In Europe, colleges tend to put more emphasis on degrees that don’t have our “general education” component, which consumes much of a student’s first two years.

In today’s Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins looks at the prospect of allowing our schools to do the same as their European counterparts do. She identifies two drawbacks to our model of the BA degree — it means compelling students to take a lot of courses they’re apt to see as tangential if not pointless in fulfilling their general-education requirements, and it means that it takes longer and costs more money to earn your degree. She writes that in Europe, ”universities focus on making students experts in their respective fields, and little to no time is spent on coursework perceived to be unrelated to degrees. Since students study a range of subjects in high school, the thinking goes, general education in college is redundant. As a result, in Europe it only takes three years to earn a bachelor’s degree.”

While it’s nice to pretend that the “general education” component of American degrees gives the nation lots of broadly educated people who have imbibed knowledge in a wide array of fields, in truth many of our students snooze through these courses. Moreover, to a great extent “general education” now consists of a lot of courses that have been captured by leftists and used to advance their ideology. So maybe a shorter degree that got right into the training the student is really interested in would be a good alternative.

These new “specialist degrees” might be offered by community colleges, Watkins writes. But since they are run by state governments, legislative hurdles would have to be cleared first:

Policymakers would need to debate and study it over the course of months and years. And its implementation would be a complex undertaking, to say the least, considering the issues of accreditation and funding that likely would arise. Adding these degrees would require more state resources and faculty. And all of this would require bold thinking from an often hidebound education establishment.

Ah yes — the hidebound education establishment. Allowing students to choose these degrees would put some jobs at risk and probably decrease the opportunities for political indoctrination by leftist profs. The fight to allow this change will be bitter. Perhaps the private sector is better positioned to make this change.

Watkins concludes,

Importing Europe’s degree model would not be a panacea for higher education, in North Carolina or other states. But for those who recognize the perhaps unfortunate truth that many students simply can’t be bothered with courses outside of their majors, it could provide a template to help make the best of the situation. And along the way, it could lower costs and inject healthy competition into the system.

She’s right. We do need more competition.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.


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