Sunday, April 11, 2010

Time to degree

The Bound, Lovenheim and Turner time-to-degree paper makes the Wall Street Journal.

It is a great paper and convinced me (along with the many students who try to register for my ECON 406 course at Michigan every fall semester and fail due to space constraints) that institutional barriers are important to timely degree completion.

Institutional barriers and crowding are not the aspect of the paper that the WSJ emphasizes. It instead focuses on the finding that the issue is not declines in student quality over time and the finding that students are working more during college.

I think that is too bad, as the institutional barriers / crowding issue may, in some sense, be easier to address than the working issue, particularly if the increase in working is partly due to changes in the consumption levels that students expect during college.

At the same time, institutional issues and crowding tend to vary in their particulars from system to system and campus to campus. They cannot be easily fixed at the federal level - change has to come at the institutional level. What you need is university leadership that is willing to push departments to offer what the students need to finish their degrees when they need it rather than what the faculty wants to teach when they want to teach it. That may mean more early morning and evening classes, to help students avoid scheduling conflicts, more sections of classes that faculty do not usually line up to teach, like statistics, and more classes offered during the summer. It may also require allowing popular departments to limit the number of majors they take on each year.

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