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Fixing 'bottleneck courses' may help make college more affordable

Published: Monday, April 29 2013 10:28 a.m. MDT

College students who can't get into over-enrolled general courses can end up staying extra years, racking up huge costs all the while. Fixing "course bottlenecks" might be a easy fix.

Paul Sancya, Associated Press

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Going to college in the U.S. is too expensive, and some of the proposed fixes could take years, maybe decades to implement. But there’s an overlooked problem that can be addressed quickly — “bottleneck courses.”

Graduating from college takes most students five to six years, though they plan on four. That tacks on an extra 25 to 50 percent in tuition costs alone, often augmented by housing expenses and the opportunity cost of not working, according to an opinion piece in Inside Higher Ed magazine. “Bottleneck courses,” for which student demand outstrips available seats, play a big role in delaying degree completion, the article said.

At the University of Texas, steps are being taken to alleviate that problem, said a WBIR-Channel 10 report. The school is hiring lecturers and rearranging staff to make sure students can take the required general education classes — where bottlenecks often occur — on time. The school has also added extra advisers to help students track required courses and encourages many to take summer classes.

In California, legislators are looking online for solutions to the bottleneck problem, the New York Times reports. Legislation is under consideration that would require public colleges and universities to give credit for faculty-approved online courses taken by students who couldn’t get into oversubscribed classes.

“If it passes, as seems likely, it would be the first time that state legislators have instructed public universities to grant credit for courses that were not their own,” the story said, “including those taught by a private vendor, not by a college or university.”

Hundreds of thousands of students in California’s public colleges and universities get shut out of gateway courses they must take before proceeding with their majors, partly because of budget cuts, the New York Times said. Many of those end up spending extra semesters or years to get their degrees.

EMAIL: cbaker@deseretnews.com

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