Sunday, January 24, 2010

It's all educational, you know.

   When I was in college, a semester was a lifetime. It was a period that seemed to have no end, an infinite span, a continuous line on the spectrum of eternity. From the very first day of classes, when the fresh syllabi were firmly ensconced in my eager little hands, when textbooks were crisp and new and begging to have their spines cracked open and their pages highlighted,  on that day I could still gaze into eternity and not even envision the final week of classes.  Tests and due dates for projects, quizzes and reports and final exams--these were no more than a thought, a wisp, an idea not yet formed.  There was no pressure to perform at a rapid pace, for the world was spinning slowly and there were days, weeks, months left to complete the necessary requirements. The semester was such an interminable span of time that it could not be, need not be, should not be measured. It was that vast.
     Not any more.  Today's college semester lasts exactly sixteen weeks.  Sissey just started the spring term, and already has two weeks under her belt. I'm not sure if the world is spinning faster or if contemporary students are learning more quickly than their predecessors, but it seems to me that the college semester is getting shorter. I am almost absolutely certain that when I was in college, a semester lasted at least twice that long. Plus we didn't get holidays. Or weekends off. Or spring break. Or trips abroad. At least that is how I recall it.
      Now, as I cross each day off the semester calendar, I am constantly reminding Sissey that she has just finished week one, week two, etc...  The ink has barely dried on yesterday's "X" before it is time to cross off another day. At this rate, she'll be graduating tomorrow.  The semester is zipping by at an uncanny clip. I barely have time to catch my breath before another week has flashed by.
     The semesters are getting shorter, the books are getting more expensive, and it takes longer to get a degree. Few universities offer four year programs anymore.  Ever wonder why?  They've shortened the semester to sixteen weeks and added an extra year. Do a little mental math on the income made during that extra year of tuition, room and board, textbooks.....see a pattern here?  I think the smarter, more contemporary college students are in cahoots with the university administrators on this new college time-line.  The schools are gaining an extra year of guaranteed enrollment and tuition, while the students gain an extra year of living in carefree abandon while still on their parent's bankroll.  As an extra payoff, they have shorter semesters, longer breaks, and more holidays. It's all educational, you know.
     Then there are the various "apprenticeships"  and "internships" that many colleges require. For example, the daughter of a friend of mine is currently completing a semester internship which is required for her degree.  She is living in Charleston, working a forty-hour week as an intern (salary gratis, of course) earning exactly ONE college credit hour for those forty hour weeks, PLUS her parents are still paying full tuition to the university just for the privilege of allowing her to complete the internship.  Time for a little more  mental math:  Sixteen (forty hour weeks) x $0.00 salary + $6,000 spring semester tuition + living expenses for off campus room and board = Some Very Confused Parents. They are still trying to figure out how the university and their daughter managed to pull that one off. It's all educational, you know.
      And don't forget the mandatory study abroad programs.  Mandatory, you ask? So did I. According to my son, it's practically required for students to spend at least one semester studying in a foreign land, preferably one that has an exotic locale with plenty of extra-curricular activities available. It's all educational, you know.
      Last, but not least, what college education would be complete without spending at least one spring break in some third world country building clinics or digging wells, courtesy of the credit card of dear old mom and dad. Who in their right mind could possibly refuse their child the chance to help make the world a better place, the chance to save the life of a child, the chance to bring hope to a hurting soul ? It's all educational, you know.
      If someone had told me I had the following options:
 A. Stay in college an extra year with room and board provided, foreign travel included   
B. Hit the streets after four years to look for a job while also assuming all financial responsibility
I think you can figure out which option I would have chosen, but we simply weren't given those options back then. The college plan was: Get in, Get out, Get to work. Period.
     I must admit that today's college students are certainly smarter than back when I was in school.  They have beaten the system: shortened the semester, added a cushy fifth year, included foreign travel, thrown in  apprenticeships and internships and  participation in global community service. They have limitless options and opportunities.  These kids aren't just smart, they are super-smart. 
   It's great to be back in college.  I like the new educational structure, the quicker pace, the longer game plan, the wider options, the global interaction.  I'm going to learn a lot from this new breed of students.  Life is good, and it's all educational, you know.

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