A NY Times commentary suggests that education would be 'more efficient' if shortened from 4 years to 3. This is total nonsense, and it's hard to believe a capable or conscientious professor would ever suggest such a thing.
There's a ton more (of actually important) material for students to learn now than there was when the current four-year curriculum was developed. This certainly means more in one's chosen technical field. But there's also more to learn in terms of life-enrichment: college degrees are acculturation experiences, plus trade-school (job ticket) experiences, plus life-edifying exposures and knowledge, and there's too much to learn in all these areas. And students are often if not typically taking 5 rather than just 4 years. And many lolligag for a year abroad amassing credits that reflect great experience but not nearly as demanding as traditional classroom credits, no matter how pleased the parents are at their youngster's overseas GPA.
More importantly, American students are as a rule very poorly prepared to enter college in the first place, much less to graduate in 3 years. K-12 has been dropping the ball big-time, at least in part because schools of education aren't exactly drawing the campus Newtons. We need more respect and better pay for teachers.
Taking longer would keep people from rushing through just to get a job ticket which won't prepare them very well for being versatile, nimble, or subtle in their daily lives. It will sound-byte their education, making them shallower employees and more dangerous as citizens and consumers in a democracy where sophisticated understanding of issues is more important than ever. And it will crowd the job market.
We've already got 2-year technical schools and community colleges which are life changers for many people for whom a 4-year college education is financially or otherwise out of reach.
Raised on already inadequate elementary and high school educations, if judged by our education system's standing in the world, not to mention shallow TV programs and other pop culture, US students will not do well in the world if we short-change them at the college level too.
This may sound like a reactionary viewpoint, and maybe so. But the global facts already show that the US is lagging behind in many areas that are important in the world, and important to people's lives, too.
We should raise the rigor of the classes we teach, and raise the number of credit hours for a BA or BS degree. How to pay for this is of course a serious question, and many parents simply can't write the checks, but let's overturn how that's currently done as well. The government once paid for GI's to get a college education, and it created a strong, vibrant middle class that made our country the envy of the world. Many colleges were once free, giving millions of students the chance to better their lives. Socialism? Nurturing capitalism? Just plain good? Whatever name you want to give it, it worked. Let's rethink how colleges and universities are financed and give people the education that could actually mean something--to them, and to the rest of us as well.