I read something interesting from a book Elements of Learning* where the authors suggest an idea for traditional college students. In essence, they should absorb the risk of selecting some courses, based on their curiosity, as an experiment to discover their preferences. Such an experiment would be the last time to make these ‘cost-free’ errors.
This is a common yet shortsighted suggestion, especially when the cost of college courses steadily increases. We know for sure that there is no such thing as a cost-free, college course—someone has to pay for it. To be fair, I believe the authors are referring to the chance for personal growth and awareness for students to discover their interests; thus taking different courses from the norm would encourage them to step-out their comfort zone.
But, for any student (traditional or non-traditional) in selecting courses, can we really say that the errors and choices related to them are ever ‘cost-free?’ Cost comes in many forms: It can be the expense of not only money, but also time and even convenience. In the case of non-traditional students, who balance work, family, along with schooling, they actually pay the cost of all three expenses and more.
In addition, what is often overlooked beyond costs are the actual benefits in taken the courses in the first place. I ask you: What is there to gain from taking courses? And, are you always clear about what these gains are?
Let’s say the gain or benefit is personal growth: Do students really have to pay-per-credit hour to have growth? If the benefit is finding a job: Could the time be better spent doing jobs, internships, and apprenticeships that tie to the actual experience that many employers require?
These kinds of questions provide no answer, yet may I offer one “free” suggestion: Before we eagerly take a course, we could grow from knowing the costs—and the benefits. Even if a course is free, we might find out there is nothing to gain, and we just can’t afford it.
*Reference: Banner & Cannon , The Elements of Learning (1999, p.154)