Legislators in North Carolina passed a $19.7 billion state budget that includes a 16 percent cut for the UNC system (Greensboro News & Record, July 7, 2011). I wonder if anyone in the UNC system has considered that accelerated education could help them achieve this cost cut without jeopardizing four-year graduation rates. Allow me to make my case.
The Costs of Egalitarianism in Education
While I firmly support equality of educational opportunities, that is quite different from the utopian egalitarianism that permeates today’s schools. Requiring all students to sit through the same classes, regardless of ability or past achievements, is inefficient for the school and frustrating for students. The price we pay for pretending all students are exactly the same is considerable. In the name of general education, we pay to warehouse students in introductory classes even when those students have already mastered the material. Teachers are being paid to teach students who have already been taught. Why not free those classroom slots for students who truly need a class in English composition or western civilization? Let the best prepared students prove their competency through CLEP tests, portfolios of research papers, or challenge tests based on the university general education classes. These most competent students will use fewer state resources as they graduate on time (or even early) and the rest of the students will benefit from the additional classroom slots available to them at registration (enabling them to graduate on time.)
The Costs of Academic Snobbery
Strict course transfer policies and refusal to accept certain CLEP tests or other alternative forms of credit cause students to waste time and money repeating courses. If a university is truly concerned about students going unprepared into upper-level courses, they can grant conditional credit for transfers or credit-by-exam. For example, credit for English 101 will be granted for an AP English score of 3 or above, provided the student takes another English course and gets an A or B. Such a policy would encourage the hesitant student to opt for repeating a class while the student who is confident of his preparation forges ahead and gains the credit for the lower-level course in the process.
The Multiplied Benefits of Early Graduation
Allowing the most capable or best prepared students to accelerate makes efficient use of scarce state resources. If the state can graduate a student in three years, that frees resources for those who need extra help. The net result could be more college graduates without more money spent.
Early graduates should graduate with less student loan debt. Without crippling loan payments, such graduates can have money to use for retirement savings, raising families, or starting businesses.
Budget cuts are never easy for anyone; who among us likes to cut back? If handled wisely, however, North Carolina students could actually benefit from a more focused, more efficient university system.