The college curriculum continues to evolve. At many institutions, students can graduate without learning anything about American history, the principles of economics, or the foundations of western civilization.
However, as we read in this Associated Press article, students at a number of colleges can take courses in “Hip Hop” and at some they can even get a minor in that “academic discipline.”
Courses like this proliferate because professors like to turn their hobbies into courses for which they get paid. Hoping to strike it lucky, they propose them and sometimes an administrator approves. And for students who want a few credits that won’t require much work, classes such as hip hop studies are ideal.
At Maryland’s Bowie State University, students can minor in hip hop. The professor behind it maintains that “Hip hop is universal – it brings together a lot of diverse people from around the world.” But that could be said about a great many things that shouldn’t be topics of college study, such as soccer or beer or pets.
Let us suppose that a faculty member who wanted to demonstrate that his proposed course on hip hop was really desirable tried doing so by putting it to the test of the market. That is, he offered to teach it to any and all students who were willing to pay him whatever three credits cost at the school. At Bowie State, part-time tuition per credit hour is $219, so students would have to pay $657 for the learning experience.
How many do you think would do that? My guess is that probably not one. Hip hop might be fun and of some interest to students from a certain culture, but they wouldn’t pay to study it.
This illustrates the problem with the “bundle” that college education offers. Since students have to pretty much buy the whole thing – the degree and all the campus stuff that goes with it – they are inclined to take little care to make sure they use their time and money as wisely as possible. Many (although not all – some students are very diligent) want to buy their degree with as little effort as possible. That is the reason why fluff courses are appealing.
Fortunately, a movement in the opposite direction is starting to develop.
Instead of enrolling at a college or university and taking what it offers, students in the future will compile their educations from various schools. The inelegant term for this is “hacking” your education.
One of the advocates of that is Dale Stephens and I wrote about his approach to education in this Pope Center piece. His theory is that students would be much better off if they took charge of educating themselves from the vast and growing variety of traditional courses, online courses, certification programs, apprenticeships, and so on. They’ll get the education they want and need at a small fraction of the current cost.
The more that trend develops, the more brick and mortar schools will have to drop academically dubious courses. No doubt hip hop itself will continue, but professors won’t be able to pass off their interest in it as worthy of academic study.