Opinion: The rise of the super senior

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The joke about the awkwardly old, large and dumb super-super senior sitting in his freshman year seminar for the third year is now outdated. This joke has become a reality. According to Complete College America, a mere 19 percent of four-year bachelor’s degree students actually graduate in four years. Colleges have even subtly acknowledged this, as they have started measuring the track of four-year bachelor’s degree on a scale of six years.

As tuition rates silently creep upward (as CU’s did this past year,) the standardization of another year of undergraduate school is going to put thousands of students into, collectively, billions of dollars of more debt. This isn’t the way we want, or need, the next generation of our society to start out their adult lives.

Approximately 1.7 million students start their college career in remediation, meaning they have to build up subject knowledge in classes that don’t count for credit before they can begin taking classes that count toward their degree. This can be traced back to a lack of competence on the primary and secondary school systems. Only one in 10 remedial students graduate at all.

As more and more students are deciding to go to four-year colleges, class sizes have increased and getting into required courses has become harder. Strict core course requirements leave no leeway for students trying to graduate on a deadline.

As easily as it can be to lay the blame on Millennials and their lack of ambition, as Baby Boomers are so prone to do, colleges have to accept fault for this too. The root of many of the causes of this prolonged education crisis is a lack of apt and available advisors. According to Complete College America, on average there is one advisor for every 400 students. More readily available advisors could mean cutting down on uninformed choices that lead to wasted time, credits and money.

Quest University in British Columbia, Canada is one of the colleges trying to combat the struggle of unclear requirements and curriculum structure. They make it painstakingly simple by offering only one degree. Students at Quest take 16 “Foundation” courses, that cover areas like the humanities, life sciences, physical sciences, mathematics and social sciences. After students complete their foundation courses, they take a course called “Question.” In this class, students work with faculty mentors to develop a question that they can answer, much like a master’s thesis. After a student’s question is developed, he or she designs his or her own program of concentration studies that culminates in a keystone project.

Quest University also differs from the typical university in the United States in that it operates on a block plan. The block plan entails one course at a time, each for three-and-a-half weeks. Each semester, a full-time student will take four courses. The block plan allows for more flexibility in a student’s schedule, and also allows for more spare time to delve into other extracurricular activities.

Classes at Quest are small too — they have a 20-student maximum for all classes. This small class model might not be sustainable for the volume of students at a college like CU, but there is no doubt that a low teacher-to-student ratio is beneficial to students. Students are infinitely less likely to fall behind without a trace. With a student body of about 700, Quest University’s faculty can get to know each student and their needs. And, on top of this, the fact that Quest students pick their own major concentration, reduces the likeliness of students switching academic pathways as frequently as their profile picture, which is what students who are bound to strict major guidelines are prone to do.

As the undergraduate degree becomes a standard for the western work industry, the higher education system is going to have to change. Although I’m sure colleges would love to keep taking two more years of tuition from students, they have a duty to create an efficient education system that is designed with students’ best interests in mind.  

Contact CU Independent Opinion Staff Writer Kim Habicht at kim.habicht@colorado.edu.

CU Independent

The CU Independent, or CUI for short, is the student news outlet for the University of Colorado at Boulder. We cover news, sports, politics, opinion, arts and entertainment and more. Our mission is to provide news and commentary that's for students and by students — about the things we care about.

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