John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

A Step to Mitigate the August Train Wreck

April 2, 2012huhnInsights0

John N. Gardner

This morning I read a sign of relief—relief from the disaster that is the August train wreck on so many campuses in our country. The August train wreck is my metaphorical reference to our continuing to allow a public school, K-12 model of allowing all students who want to be educated to show up over a few days before the start of the term to be registered and allowed to begin. Our campuses are not geared for this onslaught and it is inevitable that we make all kinds of mistakes and thus insure that many of our students have been admitted with an opportunity to fail.

What did I read? I read the Friday, March 30, page one, above the fold, article in The New York Times reporting “2 Year College Squeezed, Sets 2-Tier Tuition”.

The piece goes on to describe Santa Monica College’s decision to offer some courses, starting summer registration, at “…a higher price so that students who are eager to get into a particular class can do so if they pay more.”

I realize this practice will not be greeted with universal approbation by my readers. It may even remind the historically conscious of the policy during the US Civil War that allowed some citizens to purchase their way out of the obligation towards subscription.

But I have long urged, always to not a single positive response, that we need to move towards a pricing tiered model that charges students as a function of when they register, how far they plan ahead. This would insure that they started the term on time, were able to experience orientation, obtained a better selection of course and schedule, and  perhaps most important, actually attend the first, second, third even, class meeting. This would be diametrically different from the situation now where at many of our college students register and start classes late, because we allow it. And because we allow it, because we want their money and body count, many of them are more likely to be unsuccessful, especially in the critical first term of college.

Who knows where this one college’s experiment with “2 tier” pricing will go? I certainly don’t. But as an example of risk taking and experimentation to improve a situation, I am glad to see this happen.

We have to mitigate the August train wreck. And surely there have to be other ways to do this. But rewarding students to plan ahead, and penalizing those who don’t, may be one way. This could be for everyone’s good. We’ll see. Our colleagues at Santa Monica College may well have started something that will go further than they initially intended. I hope so.

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