Another forgettable semester

No doubt The Minnesota DailyâÄôs readership will drop significantly this week. I feel I write this weekâÄôs column only for my editor, my girlfriend and a collection of family and friends. After all, who has time for leisure reading in the chaos of finals? Certainly not I. With finals and 15-page papers looming, my every free minute is dedicated to the final push to gather another 14 credits. Amid the focused disarray, itâÄôs difficult to find time to reflect on what another semesterâÄôs completion actually means. Of course there is the 12, or 15, or perhaps even 20 credits closer to the coveted 120 required for graduation, but beyond that, what have we really gained? At the end of a semester I always weigh the high monetary cost and my own contrived efforts, wondering if itâÄôs all worth it. Did I really just gather $5,000 worth of knowledge? Remnants of the semester are scattered throughout my life; an old logic quiz here, an oceanography lab there; thereâÄôs clear proof that I went to school, but I donâÄôt feel any smarter. Sure, at the Christmas dinner table IâÄôll be able to vaguely explain the concept of wave propagation to my family. (IâÄôll spare them.) But itâÄôs just a matter of weeks or months before I remember only the words and forget the details. In institutionalized education, this would seem to be the natural order of things âÄî the recalling and recycling of information. We pay to learn and quickly forget information that is dictated by others to be important. This especially holds true when satisfying University liberal education requirements. The cost of education will only continue to rise. As noted last Friday by the Daily Editorial Board, a new report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education found that between 1982 and 2007 college tuition and fees increased 439 percent, with median family incomes trailing behind with only a 147 percent increase. If this trend continues âÄî and it shows no signs of abating âÄî a college education will become increasingly unaffordable and students will have to sink further and further in debt to obtain a modest bachelorâÄôs degree. A degree thatâÄôs worth seems to be diminishing with each passing year. And rightfully so; I mean what is a bachelorâÄôs degree really except a demonstration of oneâÄôs ability to endure massive amounts of busy work? If youâÄôve been reading the Daily lately, you can see the writing on the wall. The University is facing unprecedented state budget deficits and every student in the state who attends a public university will almost certainly soon face a considerable spike in tuition cost. The University Student Senate approved a 5.5 percent tuition cap, but an administration facing record deficits will be inclined, and almost expected, to ignore their suggestion. Under circumstances such as these, I think itâÄôs important to challenge long-held maxims of our institutions of higher learning. In the face of these skyrocketing costs, institutionalized education should begin to rethink their liberal education requirements and offer more focused, affordable degree programs. A more direct, practical path to graduation should be presented to students, one that saves them valuable time and money and one that spares them from the current collection of excessive and unnecessary coursework. Of all places, academia should not be practicing intellectual dishonesty. I think itâÄôs time our institutions of higher learning acknowledge the real value of their liberal education requirements. Let us dispel the myth of a âÄúwell-roundedâÄù education. This is the goal that often places math majors in Introduction to poetry and English majors in advanced algebra. Universities recognize that these courses are entirely inapplicable as they apply to studentsâÄô declared majors, but still they are intended to serve the goal of a sagacious education. Does anyone really believe this? Will the math major gain anything from the poetry class or will the English major retain anything practical from their study of algebra? Not likely. A more probable outcome will be that the information and concepts learned in these courses is held with a loose, apathetic grip for the duration of the class and then forever flushed from the mind immediately after the final exam. Which begs the question: If these classes only serve to temporarily fill our heads with dispensable knowledge, whatâÄôs the point of taking them? Some may argue that these superfluous classes serve to hone our critical thinking capacity, providing a more expansive intellectual range. But letâÄôs be serious. Most academic work âÄî at least at an undergraduate level âÄî is little more than an overly wordy articulation of the obvious. Research papers and the like usually amount to an exhausting find-the-cheese exercise, searching out the necessary references as you write around and lead into other peopleâÄôs ideas, facts and figures. This hardly expands oneâÄôs capacity for critical thought; at best it only makes them a better researcher. I am not so cynical to think that our universities are cold, capitalist establishments that subject us to redundant requirements only for monetary gain. I trust in the sincerity of their goal of a comprehensive education. I only doubt their ability to deliver. If the University has our best interests at heart, and they seek to be a viable option for higher education to the general public in the future, they will offer a more undeviating and cost-efficient path to graduation. Ross Anderson welcomes comments at [email protected]