College for Grown-Ups: Dispelling the Myth of the Traditional College Student!

Dear Commons Community,

Mitchell L. Stevens, an associate professor of education at Stanford, has as an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times, commenting on the residential, four-year college experience that permeates many of our institutions yet no longer reflects the way most students approach their education. He comments:

“A substantial body of research demonstrates that first-generation college students, those from low-income families and racial minorities are particularly at risk for feelings of exclusion, loneliness and academic alienation. The costs of leaving college can be large for everyone: lost tuition, loan debt and a subtle but consequential diminishment of self-esteem.

The source of these problems is baked into the current organization of residential higher education. Virtually all selective schools arrange their undergraduate programs on the presumption that teenagers are the primary clients. Administrators plan dormitory architecture, academic calendars and marketing campaigns to appeal to high school juniors and seniors. Again the cruel paradox: In the ever-growing number of administrators and service people catering to those who pay tuition, there are grown-ups all over campus, but they are largely peripheral to undergraduate culture.

If we were starting from zero, we probably wouldn’t design colleges as age-segregated playgrounds in which teenagers and very young adults are given free rein to spend their time more or less as they choose. Yet this is the reality.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Rethinking the expectation that applicants to selective colleges be fresh out of high school would go far in reducing risk for young people while better protecting everyone’s college investment.”

Stevens goes on to describe alternate online learnings models that might be more appropriate. I agree fully with his basic premise that American higher education is built on the myth that our students are residential, full-time, and between the ages of 18-21 when the exact the opposite is the case. The vast majority of college students are older, do not live on campus, and need to work to pay for tuition and living expenses.  Alternate types of programs have been flourishing for years and have been fueled more recently by new models that take advantage of online technology.



Comments are closed.