We must be realistic about four-year degrees

HANNAH CARR-MURPHY, Opinion Columnist

With just one month left until commencement, I have been reflecting on my time here at UNI. There are so many good things in my life for which I have UNI to thank: my internship at a nationally known literary magazine, the countless performing opportunities I’ve had with UNI music ensembles and the professors who have cared enough to mentor me as I tried and tried to figure out what I could do with my life.

And I know I have used this column to say some things about our school and community that are critical, but I never intended to have anyone think I didn’t love UNI and the people who make it special to me.

I am an idealist, and as an idealist, I want us to keep striving to make a school that upholds rigorous academic standards while providing a space for people to explore who they are and what they care about.

I am a believer in the liberal arts education; I think intellectual inquiry is not a waste of time or a means to an end, but an edifying experience in its own right.

That’s why, when my academic plans changed to include a fifth year of undergraduate education, I wasn’t too upset. I was already committed to my two majors and in an excellent program for both fields that interested me.

But even before I added my second major, the fifth year loomed as a possibility in my four-year plan.

I will use my original UNI major as an example for the math we’re about to do: music education. This major, with the liberal arts core, adds up to be 134 credit hours. Since student teaching is 12 credit hours, we’ll subtract those, making an adjusted on-campus total of 122.

Take this number 122 and divide it across the seven semesters a student would plan to be on campus and you get an average of 17.4 credit hours per semester, meaning this student would have to take between 16 and 18 credits every semester to graduate in an even four years with student teaching being completed in the spring of the fourth year.

Going back to my statement about valuing academic rigor, I know that many people will say, “it isn’t too much to ask a full-time student to take 18 credits, many students take more than that with success.”

And that’s true. It is possible to be successful while taking that many hours; I should know, as I am taking 23 this semester and I’m still alive.

But what many people might not consider when doing that math is the different situation many college students are in today.

Across the country (but thankfully not as much at UNI), student debt is skyrocketing to an unsustainable level. More students are working part-time jobs or even (god forbid) fulltime jobs while taking a full class load to offset the cost of college.

In addition, the jam-packed academic schedule of a major with 134 credits doesn’t allow for any exploration outside of the liberal arts core. What is the point of having us take classes from every field if we don’t have any freedom to follow up on what may interest us?

If we’re encouraging intellectual exploration for its own sake, we have to make a space for people to take a class just because it interests them. Not to mention what adding a university honors designation does to such a full schedule, when writing an honors thesis is three credits all by itself.

And yes, I know that classes are offered during the summer at UNI (for exorbitant tuition fees in comparison to taking them at Hawkeye and transferring them over).

But many students are already using the summer to do a number of other responsible things like work at internship positions in their intended career field.

There is nothing wrong with the fifth year of college; I’ve enjoyed mine immensely. But we can’t continue to advertise a four-year degree to prospective students, knowing what we know. And we can’t continue to offer scholarships to prospective students that only cover four years of schooling, with no option of extending to the fifth year.

If it’s going to take five years, that’s okay! We just need to be honest and support those students who are making the victory lap.