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Posted at 4:31 PM ET, 12/21/2010

UDC to offer two-year BA in DCPS pilot

By Daniel de Vise

The University of the District of Columbia is preparing a pilot program that would offer students at two DCPS high schools a bachelor's degree two years after the completion of 12th grade, President Allen Sessoms said today.

Sessoms wants to take groups of students from Wilson High School and the School Without Walls into UDC courses starting in their junior year and push them through a full four-year bachelor's program, effectively combining that coursework with the final two years of high school.

The 2+4 model would yield one of the quickest BA degrees in academia. Students commonly take college-level courses in high school through the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs and dual enrollment, but even they seldom finish college in fewer than three years.

"I went to Walls and did a survey, and a third of kids raised their hands and said they'd be interested," Sessoms said, speaking in a meeting with the editorial board of The Washington Post.

Sessoms said he believes most high school students "completely waste their senior year," biding their time till college or taking college-level courses that they will eventually retake. One problem is a growing reluctance among universities to grant credit for AP or IB courses.

The 2+4 program is a bid to draw more top DCPS students to UDC, which has endeavored to make itself more attractive to that group by establishing a four-year "flagship" program and steering remedial students into a two-year community college. UDC also has a new and apparently flourishing honors college.

"Only the best, most motivated kids are going to be able to do it," Sessoms said of the two-year BA model.

While details are sketchy, the program might start with next year's high school freshmen, who would commit to the pilot at the start of high school. One potential hold-up, Sessoms said, is that interim D.C. schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson is pushing to open the program to every high school. Sessoms said he'd prefer to start with a pilot and work out the kinks before going city-wide.

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By Daniel de Vise  | December 21, 2010; 4:31 PM ET
Categories:  Attainment, Community Colleges, Publics  | Tags:  UDC DCPS pilot, UDC Wilson pilot, UDC pilot DCPS, UDC two-year BA, UDC two-year bachelor degree  
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Perhaps I am not the only person who doesn't get this initiative and so many others like it that are sweeping the nation? Here are some of the ingredients that make this problematic, as I see them:

1) K-12 American high schools, in general, are turning out students with good grades and poor skills. Half the students in the US who go on to college are taking remedial course when they arrive. That is, they are re-doing high school in college! So much for students "wasting their senior year." Why aren't they just doing high school in high school? DC Schools, unfortunately, have a historic reputation for grade inflation, which only complicates the matter.

2)Many colleges don't grant AP credits because kids are not actually doing college level work in their AP classes, and because the general, "survey"-type AP course offerings may be a bad fit for the colleges' structured, sequential degree programs. The colleges, for example, don't want a high school AP Calculus student who wants to be an engineer, to place out of college-level Calculus with a mediocre AP score.

3) To employers, the BA degree (especially in liberal arts) is a proxy for maturity. It's not the content that is valued so much as it shows a basic level of task-commitment, self-discipline, time management, etc. Nor do I think we should underestimate the time factor - under ordinary circumstances, a college graduate is roughly 22 years old. Will employers feel the same way about 20 year old BA holders? How much interest will a 20 year old with a BA in Business generate with employers who are also evaluating 22 year olds? And how could the 2 year BA degree award be in any other area than liberal arts or perhaps business, considering the extensive technical course load required for degrees in sciences, engineering, etc.

So why is this a train wreck? Because it has the same factors as every other educational reform we have trotted out in the last 20 years. We in the educational establishment are forced by politics and conflicting values to place emphasis on labels instead of standards. Unless the folks in DC School are able to do something few folks have done before - raise the standards along with the labels - then I foresee this being just another "cheapening" move that makes employers more skeptical than ever of what's on a student's resume.

Posted by: annemerson | December 22, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

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