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Why do All College Degrees Take 4 Years?

College Graduates

If you think about it for a moment this doesn’t make any sense at all. Really, why do all degrees take 4 years? Do all degrees require exactly the same amount of education, the same amount or learning, and the same amount of experience? It doesn’t make sense.

I won’t debate why you go to college or university, it could be to learn to learn, to acquire a skill, to acquire knowledge, to get certified, or whatever the reason. It really doesn’t matter for this post, the question is why does it take 4 years no matter what major you take?

Some topics are more involved than others. And it shows! I remember taking some harder course where each class time had a related lab time allocated to it. If you take 5 of these courses in a semester then that was 5 labs. For other subjects, there were no labs. Some classes barely even had any assignments. For example if I compare most of my computer science assignments to my psychology assignments (I majored in both), well let’s just the say the amount of effort wasn’t comparable. And most psychology classes didn’t have labs! I’m not knocking Psychology (it was my third major – I also majored in Physics), it requires a skill set that not everyone has. It’s just that the amount of effort it took me to get through my computer science classes compared to my psychology classes wasn’t even close.

Of course I assume things haven’t changed that much since I went to university, except that now laptops are standard. Back in my day, when we used to walk 50 miles in blizzards with 100mph winds, no one had a laptop in class. But seriously, I assume there’s still a large discrepancy between how much effort goes into different degrees.

And that’s how it should be. Some material is harder to learn and takes more effort. That’s life. But why is it that every college degree still takes 4 years. Why don’t they vary in time depending on what’s required?

Is it a perception thing, where people will put less value into a 2-3 year degree versus a 4-5 year degree. I’m sure that will happen, but there’s nothing wrong with that. They take differing amounts of effort.

Or is it that it’s just easier to make everyone go through the same 4 year program, and expand or shrink the effort it takes to make it fit into 4 years (not to be confused with Parkinson’s law). Plus, and I just can’t resist, it’s pretty easy money to have a 2-3 year program take 4 years.

Personally I believe the main reason is that’s easy and standard to make it 4 years, no matter how much effort it really takes. It’s the easy route. It’s the standard. Why rock the boat? And any other of the million cliches you can come up with. Sure the other benefits are nice, but I simply think it’s because that’s the way it’s always been. And that’s why we should really question why college degrees all take 4 years to complete!

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  •     Scott Kane
    · August 19th, 2008  · 8:26 am  · Permalink

    I think we solved it in Oz, Steph. We don’t have colleges (OK, some High Schools are called “colleges”, but that’s not the same thing). Basically Kinda to Primary School (Elementary), then to High School then straight to Uni for a degree or a “Technical College” {again a spurious usage of the word, we love jokes here ;-)} for four years, at uni anyway, two years max at the tech’s.

    I used to teach at tertiary level (yes, I am ashamed of this sin, but it was part time work I swear!!). The “thinking” amongst the educators was that four years was the time it required for the mind to expand to the necessary level required in the “professions”. Having had to deal with folks who missed this “expansion” I suspect they may have a point. But then I studied a few psychology units too… 😉

  •     RichardM
    · August 19th, 2008  · 10:52 am  · Permalink

    Scott’s right. In Australia, not all degrees take 4 years. A Computer Science degree is only 3 years, and I think a degree in Medicine is about 7 years. It probably varies from university to university too. Of course, you can opt to spend even longer if you want a higher qualification.

  •     Stephane Grenier
    · August 19th, 2008  · 11:50 am  · Permalink

    Hi guys,

    I didn’t realize that Australia did this. That’s exactly what the North American colleges need.

    And if that also needs to include an element of life experience than so be it. For example, it’s extremely hard to become a police officer right out of high school. They prefer people who’ve had some life experience, who’ve had a chance to grow beyond just their education. And that’s a good thing.

    It’s great to hear that it’s actually implemented. Congrats to you guys!

  •     Scott Kane
    · August 19th, 2008  · 12:27 pm  · Permalink

    “And if that also needs to include an element of life experience than so be it.”

    When I was at uni getting my Bach of Ed we went out on what are called “rounds”. Basically you start off doing two stints for two weeks in a school each year. Second year four stints, third year six and then fourth year you actually get control of the class during your “round” without the “associate” teacher intervening. Not a bad idea IMHO.

    Secondly, most uni’s here are very open to younger ones deferring after high school. Essentially they win their place at the uni, then defer for a year or two before starting study. Some work, some travel etc. Again, quite a good idea.

  •     Stephane Grenier
    · August 19th, 2008  · 3:07 pm  · Permalink

    Hi Scott,

    Absolutely! The earlier you get some hands on experience the better. Not only that, but too often you don’t find out the career you picked isn’t for you until it’s too late. Working in a topic and learning about a topic are very different experiences!

    And I couldn’t agree more about deferring. I think it might have been a good thing for me. I honestly wasn’t mature enough to absorb what was going on around me. I wasted too many cycles being an idiot 😉 Although it was a lot of fun, and I did learn a lot about socializing, I still didn’t get nearly as much out of it as I could’ve had I been a little more mature.

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