In my last installment of this blog, I wrote that I had a potential solution to the problem of students not finishing college or taking exceeding long to finish college due to limited amounts of the following: motivation, career planning, intellectual curiosity, and desire to learn. However, before I get to that, let me discuss the rationale for my solution.
I have spent a good deal of my adult life around college age students. In the mid to late 1980s, I was an Air Force ROTC instructor at Georgia Tech where I was primarily responsible for teaching and training future Air Force Officers during their sophomore and junior years of college. Since 1998, I have been a college professor and administrator at two universities (Bentley, located in suburban Boston, and KSU) where I have taught a significant number of undergraduate students. One thing I have learned during these years of observing and interacting with primarily 18-22 year-olds is that while the age can vary slightly from student to student, most students exhibit a significant leap in maturity around the ages of 20-21. While this is based purely on anecdotal evidence, it is supported by a number of recent scientific studies that indicate significant brain development takes place in one’s late teens and early twenties. These studies show that the part of the brain that is developing at this time is the part that supports organizational skills and decision-making, which are key attributes required to succeed in a rigorous academic environment.
So, my solution for a greater return on the investment in our children’s education is to delay their start of college until their brain is better developed such that they can garner significant benefit from their educations. The difficult and controversial part of this would be how to implement and pay for such a plan. My idea is to institute a “Volunteer America” plan in which when each American teenager finishes high school, they are required to “enlist” for two years of paid service to their country. While some will be inclined to join the military, it is likely to be a relatively small percentage. Other opportunities could be in helping improve our infrastructure through construction of roads and bridges. Others could help in schools, hospitals, law enforcement, and non-profits which support the community. While some might argue that this is a costly solution, the return on investment would be significant, both is the short-term in the bolstering of needed infrastructure, security, and services, but more importantly, in the long-term, as many of these young adults enter college with more maturity, better developed brains, and likely more motivation to do well in school and become more productive members of the workforce and society when they finish. For those who do not go on to college, they will have developed a skill set that will likely provide more job opportunities upon completion of their service.
If a presidential candidate came forward with an idea like this along with a pledge to sign Simpson-Bowles, he or she would have my vote in a second. What do you think?