Thursday, January 1, 2009

What is a Degree Worth--part #3

The trend for decelerating the amount of time needed to earn an undergraduate degree is not one that applies only to the "alternative" college programs and the diploma mills. It has been slowly seeping into the regular college programs as well.

My undergraduate degree is from Queens College CUNY. The number of credits that was required to earn either a BA or a BS was 128, 8 more than is now the case. That 128 was the norm at all colleges. That represented 8 semesters at 16 credits per semester. Yes, it was possible to reduce the time needed to complete the degree by taking more credits per semester and/or by taking courses in summer school. However, taking more than 18 credits per semester required special permission from the school and was not a sure thing unless the school was convinced that you could handle the heavy load.

But it is not only the number of credits that is different now from then. We began school the day after Labor Day. We had classes up until Christmas Eve, were off until New Years and came back the day after New Years to finish the term and then take final exams. At max our winter break was two weeks and then the spring term began. That spring term would not end until the middle of June. Our school terms were longer then than now.

But there were other differences as well. First, at a minimum a 3-credit course required three hours a week of class time; a 4-credit course required four hours a week. Today's minimum requirement for a 3-credit course is 35 hours per term of instruction, far less then when I was an undergraduate. Next, there were 1-credit and 2-credit courses that were given back then. Physical education courses carried only one credit but required 2-3 hours per week for the course. Some labs were only 1-credit courses, some 2 on the advanced level. Again, those 1 and 2 credit labs carried 2-4 hours per week of lab time.

And then there were the basic required courses. All students had to take four courses in English, two in history, four in Physical education, one in health education, two in sociology/anthropology, two in Speech, three in the study of a foreign language, two in science and two in math. You were also required to take one semester of Art Appreciation and one semester of Music Appreciation. Those were just the general requirements. Every major carried its own list of required subjects in the major area as well as requirements from other areas. [Note: some colleges had far more by way of required subjects than CUNY did. For instance, YU/Stern required two Judaic Studies courses minimum each term at Stern and more at YU. These Judaic studies courses did not reduce the number of credits required for a degree; they were in addition to those credits.]

Back then it was not only possible but also likely that many people would graduate with more than 128 credits towards their undergraduate degree. Sometimes--GASP!--students took courses that were not school requirements nor major requirements just because they were interested in the subject matter. There were also students who either double majored or who took one or more sub-majors. (Sub-majors, otherwise known as minors, were four or more courses above the required/introductory course level in one subject area.) I graduated with 163 credits for my BA degree, including a major and three sub-majors, one of which was only one course short of being a full major. I wasn't all that unusual. [Note: I actually had more credits but then, unlike now, the Judaic studies courses from Stern, where I transferred from after my first year, were not transferable as college credit.]

So, in the "good old days" we went to school for longer periods of time, our courses took longer to complete, we had more school requirements and we took more courses outside of our majors. Yes, we really got educated when we were in college. And before someone brings this up with a smirk, many of us also worked part time while in school. And also before someone else brings it up, there were boys back then who were also learning in yeshiva during the day, although nowhere near as many as a percentage of population as there are now. But here is the difference. Those yeshiva boys went to school FOUR nights a week. And they weren't getting yeshiva credits from CUNY (or from anywhere else either). Yes, there were a few people who entered college with a few AP course credits. No, "CLEPing" was not in existence. And yes, it must be mentioned as well: even CUNY had tough entrance requirements back then. You needed to present a "decent" high school average and strong SAT scores. The caliber of students in school was higher then than now.

I offer this information so my readers can know what perspective I am coming from when I talk about the worth of a college education. And to my reader who commented on a prior posting that the "good old days" were not so good, I beg to differ. In my viewpoint, those "good old days" of undergraduate education were better than what we have today.

Note: to really make your day let me point out that the CUNY schools were tuition free back before open enrollment took affect and made charging a necessity. When I graduated college the registration fee per term had gone up to $25.00 per term, and people were in shock. Our only other charge for school was paying for textbooks and our transportation. Now that really was the good old days, and it was waaaaay better then the cost of college today.

17 comments:

Louis said...

City Uptown grad in Engineering and also went when we had no tuition to pay. One difference I see is that kids today start college with a career in the front of their minds. they don't want to take anything that is not directly related to that career. They think it's worthless to take courses unless they can see a dollar sign attached to them somewhere.

We also knew we would have to get a job but school wasn't just about that job. Somewhere we had the idea that we needed to get educated in general and know things even if we weren't sure when we would use them.

Everybody is in such a hurry today. They're going to live longer so what are they in such a hurry for?

Lion of Zion said...

PROFK:

why are you always looking to cast such a negative spin on these things. you don't even mention that college students today don't need as much classroom time as when you went to school because our high schools a are so much better and there is not as much left for them to learn in college

Rae said...

What else would you expect Louis in a world that is instant everything? We have instant food, instant news and we want instant gratification. Waiting for anything is not the way for today's younger generations. It's how they go to school and it's how they look at buying things also. There is no real idea of doing without and saving for the future. Only today counts. And today only counts for a few seconds because tomorrow is pushing right in. They are always so much in a hurry to get to the next step that they never stop and savor where they are right now. I can honestly say that college was some of the best most exciting years of my life. My kids just don't get that.

ProfK said...

Lion,
Our high schools are much better? Please tell me you were joking with that statement. They are NOT better today than they were in the past.

When I was in high school the degree to go out and work for a large part of the population was the high school diploma. College was not considered as necessary for everyone and more people did not go to college than went. Therefore, the high schools, knowing that they were the last formal education for many of the students, provided as much of a solid education as they could. The required courses in my high school were both broad and deep. Standards were high. And high schools were not the "hefker veldt" that you see so often today. Discipline problems back when I was in high school? Rare and swiftly handled.

Now fast forward to today. High schools know that they have an out if they don't provide a solid education--the students will get whatever they are missing in college, if they even consider that anything is missing. Heaven forfend that today's high schools should raise the bar and demand that students exert themselves and do well now, not later. Discipline is a major problem.

Across the board CUNY is overburdened with immersion and remedial courses in the basics of English and math. Nor is CUNY alone. Colleges that you would never think of as admitting students who needed remediation are finding themselves having to offer remedial work in the basics. For far too many colleges you might as well rename the first year as grade 13.

And yeshiva high schools today? Yup, a few are living up to the idea that they really are private schools and have to give a solid education. And then there are the rest. And the more to the right that you go, the worse it gets.

In one of my CUNY classes I asked the students how many had written a research paper in high school. The answer was only 1 in 5. The answer to that back when I was in high school would have been 100%.

So please, high schools today are not better across the board, and it is not true that "there is not as much left for them to learn in college." Quite the opposite--there is more to learn to make up for the high school deficit.

Alice said...

Prof K, today's high schools divide themselves differently then they did many years ago. In the public HS system you have regular
classes and honors classes. The regular classes get whatever they get. The honors classes offer solid work in real subjects. Unfortunately, there are more students in the regular classes than in the honors classes. What you are seeing at CUNY is mostly students out of the regular classes. Your alma mater Queens now has an Honors College within the college. That's where you are going to see the better educated students out of high school.

So you are both right and wrong about the high schools today. You are right that the general programs are not as strong as they were many years ago. You are right that most of the graduates coming out of high school today don't have the knowledge that graduates had many years ago. But you are wrong if you say this about all high school grads. Those in the honors programs are comparable to those who were in the high schools many years ago.

As to the caliber of yeshiva high school grads, that has been going down hill for a long time. It's not that the students aren't as bright as those of many years ago. The problems I blame all on the high schools. Once all these high schools employed mostly teachers from the public school system, educated and licenced. Now they take in only frum teachers and credentials are optional. The boys high schools are the worse. Many of them don't even bother any more with the fiction that they offer a full high school education. They equate a few cram courses for the Regents exams with getting a high school education.

Lion of Zion said...

PROFK:

"Our high schools are much better? Please tell me you were joking with that statement."

i'm sorry that you took my comment so seriously and wasted time with a reak response. i thought it was clear from the end of the previous thread that my comment was saturated with sarcasm.

but on the topic of rushing through college, when i went to brooklyn college it was "easy" to come in with 60 credits (israel, recognized and unrecognized APs, bechina yerushalmi, etc.)

Lion of Zion said...

ALICE:

"The problems I blame all on the high schools."

why do you place all the blame on the high schools? it would be nice parents actually took some responsibility for what goes on in the schools.

also, your comments about uncredentialed teachers does not apply to the MO schools, yet these also have problems.

but anyway, i think part of the reason jewish high schoolers perform the way they do is because american jews are so comfortable. our communal drive to excel (and specifically to do better than our parents) is a thing of the past.

Jake said...

ProfK, can you really compare the schools that you went to with today's schools? They may both be high schools by name but they seem to me to be too different in so many ways to make a comparison a valid one. Shouldn't the real question be whether or not high schools are doing what they have to do, are supposed to do, given the world today?

aml said...

Where I work (a large private university in DC), undergrads must take a minimum of 12 credits (typically four classes) and a maximum of 21 credits per semester. Bachelor's degrees are 120-150 credits and master's degree are 30-50 credits, depending on the program. There are really no short cuts, unless someone comes in with college credit (a minimum number of credits are transferable) or go to summer school while in college.

Undergrad tuition is about $31k/year (fall and spring semesters only) and grad tuition is roughly $25/k year, depending on the program. The under grad tuition is locked in for five years (in case it takes that long- think hard sciences and engineering) and we have a bunch of "five year programs" that allow undergrads to go an extra year and earn a graduate degree.

Its a lot of money. A lot. And I think freshmen and juniors are required to live on campus on top of that. But the school gives tons in scholarships. And its a good education. I'd hire one of our graduates in a second if given the opportunity.

I plan on working there for years and years to come so I can get the 87% tuition break they offer faculty and staff. By working there, I am saving for my kids education without actually saving (I make a good salary too; I don't know that I'd make much more in the private sector, so I don't think there's a big sacrifice to weigh there). So my kids know now where they are going to college (they are two and five). I cannot wait for the fight where they tell us they want to go to YU and we tell them they'll need pay their own way. Or worse, the fight because some rabbi told them college is trief...

Bas~Melech said...

Just thought I'd toss a link into this discussion...

Op-ed:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/28/opinion/28murray.html?scp=1&sq=Should%20the%20Obama%20Generation%20Drop%20Out?&st=cse

Responses:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/02/opinion/l02educ.html

aml said...

Bas- this is interesting. I went to a state school for undergrad and constantly kick myself for not doing two years of community college first. Most of the CC professors were at the University fulltime, so I would have received a comparable education for 1/4 the cost. I was not a strong student and the smaller classes and individualized attention (at least at that CC) would have been better for me. I adjunct at our local CC from time to time and think that its a nice-transition time for some students (others are just floundering around anyway, but at least aren't wasting their money on State tuition. I think we need to do a better job of tracking students in high school (not strictly, like in a lot of countries, but give students a path). I saw a documentary on the Automative High School some place in the NYC area, where student get their high school diploma while learning to be mechanics. This doesn't mean they won't go on to college (some may even go on to be engineers), but its gives options...

tesyaa said...

I attended a professional seminar in which the keynote speaker, Richard Hokenson, an economist, argued that one of the strengths of the American economy is that U.S. provides opportunities to "late bloomers", in whatever field. Not only do late bloomers succeed here, we attract successful late bloomers from Europe, India, etc., where career paths are much more predetermined by performance in the early / middle grades. Just worth thinking about.

Anonymous said...

Back when I went to college, a "real" degree required 136 credits. For example, my BSEE required 136 credits. I took at least the maximum permitted every semester, and took classes every summer, and entered college with 17 credits (1 AP class, a few YU classes, and 2 summer classes), in order to finish in 3 years (and even that was just about more than we could afford!). And if I recall correctly, I graduated with 139 credits (some of which were graduate level classes) and applied the remaining 3 to my graduate degree.

A brother of a friend majored in Greek/Latin ("Classical Languages") and ended up working in the Post Office. Why did he bother with a "fancy" degree in the first place?

It's great to attend college just for the sake of getting an overall education. But at $20k+ a year, no way! It's just not worth it. Get a job and read a lot in your spare time instead.

Mark

ProfK said...

Mark,
Re "A brother of a friend majored in Greek/Latin ("Classical Languages") and ended up working in the Post Office. Why did he bother with a "fancy" degree in the first place?" The only way to get the real answer to that is to ask him. However, given the curriculum involved in that major, I would imagine he was fascinated with the subject, he wanted to know about Greek and Latin, he might have had some plans on what to do with his major but they didn't work out etc. Re the post office, many a person, frum ones included, gravitated towards civil service jobs because of the fantastic benefits (think a pension and lifetime health insurance benefits etc.), and the post office was once under the government and qualified as civil service. Even today mailmen "begin at about $20 to $25 an hour and the average salary for Mailman jobs is $57 to $60,000, including Federal benefits. Average Mailman salaries can vary greatly due to company, location, industry, experience and benefits."http://www.simplyhired. If you work in the managerial sector instead of delivering the mail your salary is higher. Making a fortune? No. Earning a living? Yes. And if the mailman has a working spouse? Far from poor.

Anonymous said...

Re "A brother of a friend majored in Greek/Latin ("Classical Languages") and ended up working in the Post Office. Why did he bother with a "fancy" degree in the first place?" The only way to get the real answer to that is to ask him.

Oy vey, I know the family very well for decades, and I know most of the story. Suffice it to say that he is mostly estranged from his family at this point.

However, given the curriculum involved in that major, I would imagine he was fascinated with the subject, he wanted to know about Greek and Latin, he might have had some plans on what to do with his major but they didn't work out etc.

No plans at all, just a very high intellect.

Re the post office, many a person, frum ones included, gravitated towards civil service jobs because of the fantastic benefits (think a pension and lifetime health insurance benefits etc.), and the post office was once under the government and qualified as civil service. Even today mailmen "begin at about $20 to $25 an hour and the average salary for Mailman jobs is $57 to $60,000, including Federal benefits. Average Mailman salaries can vary greatly due to company, location, industry, experience and benefits."http://www.simplyhired. If you work in the managerial sector instead of delivering the mail your salary is higher. Making a fortune? No. Earning a living? Yes. And if the mailman has a working spouse? Far from poor.

I wasn't knocking the post office, I was knocking the $100k education and the 4 years spent getting it. Today that would be about $200k.

In fact, today of all times, civil service jobs, Federal, State, even Local are excellent. They don't even suffer from the old problems of really low wages, and they've retained almost all of their excellent benefits. It will slow pretty soon due to financial constraints, but the current folks benefits are likely to be bailed out by the Federal taxpayer somehow.

Mark

Lion of Zion said...

MARK:

"It will slow pretty soon due to financial constraints"

i doubt it. unfortunately our incoming president seems intent on padding the federal payroll.

Anonymous said...

Mark - <<"It will slow pretty soon due to financial constraints">>

LOZ - i doubt it. unfortunately our incoming president seems intent on padding the federal payroll.


I wasn't specifically referring to Federal jobs in this case, I was thinking state, local, and related jobs. Those will definitely shrink as the state and local budgets shrink. Even the Federal bailout will only last a year or two. As far as Federal jobs, they have been increasing, and they will continue to increase for a while, BUT all that will come crashing to a halt when other countries run out of money to finance our Federal government. I don't know exactly when it will happen, but I know that it will happen someday.

Mark