Via Insty I saw the redoubtable Joanne Jacobs’s take on this topic. Back when I decided to go back to college, I was astonished to learn that a simple B.A. degree would take me four years to attain. Four years? Everywhere else in the world only requires three.
Then I studied the curriculum, and started to understand why the late Joseph Sobran lamented that in a single generation, our society had “progressed” from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to teaching remedial English at university — a.k.a. the “core curriculum” which required a full year to be wasted on shit like “how to write a sentence” (English 101), “how the U.S. and state governments work” (Pol Sci 001/002), “Math For Dummies” (Math 001), and so on. Even a “trimmed” course load for this mandatory study looks dubious, as Jacobs notes:
[Greg] Poliakoff would require all students to take “expository writing, literature, a college-level mathematics course, a natural science course, an economics course, a survey in U.S. history or government, and three semesters of a foreign language.”
What a total waste of time, in my case at any rate. Fortunately, there are ways to “test out” of various courses — for some reason, the fact that I had published three novels somehow persuaded the English Department that I wouldn’t need English 101, for instance — so I was able to reduce some of the bullshit course load, but still not enough to shorten the four years into three that way.
Next, I ran into the stupid restriction that only allows students to take on four courses per semester which, when I studied the course content, made it plain that I would be prevented from tackling five and even six, even though it was easily doable. My pleas to the Arts Faculty to do so were rejected Because Rules — clearly, the rules are there to protect the Grease Pit Set and Snowflakes from actual hard work, whereas I could see at a glance that the content for all but the 4-level History courses was not only light but superficial. (Without exception, my requests for a supplemental reading list for a course were met with a “you’re not from this planet” look from the various professors — one admitted to me that she had never received such a request from a student before. At Wits University in Johannesburg back in the 1970s, every liberal arts course had a supplemental reading list which, while not officially required, was necessary if you wanted to actually pass the course.)
So I attacked the degree with ferocity, taking all the summer / winter vacation classes I could. (Strange, isn’t it, that professors can teach a course in three weeks that takes a full semester otherwise?)
Anyway, with all that my B.A. still took me three and a half years*, simply because the course schedules often didn’t jell with my degree plan — the one course I needed for a French sub-major (Business French) wasn’t taught in any “summer-mester”, and clashed with a History class during the regular semester, so I ended up taking instead a useless class of English short stories (during which the professor admitted to me privately that I could have taught, let alone studied) and passing up on a French sub-major.
The cynic in me thinks that the overly-long undergraduate degree is driven simply by financial greed — one less year equals a loss of $30,000 in revenue per student — but I will concede that without the bullshit core curriculum, the failure / dropout rate would probably be much higher than it already is. (And that, of course, is the fault of the high school education kids get these days, but don’t get me started.)
It’s a racket, pure and simple.
*summa cum laude (for my non-U.S. Readers, that means a 90%+ final grade for every course)