After I had mastered simple math and reading skills in elementary school, I began to question every following subject and assignment. I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a journalist, and I knew further mastering arithmetic wouldn’t get me there.

Still, I took the accelerated math path in middle and high school with the hope that the harder I worked, the sooner it would end. My senior year of high school I took Advanced Placement calculus and statistics because I was told it would help me take more core classes in college, save money and develop college-level academic skills. It only freed up my schedule enough to take required science electives the subsequent fall.

It wasn’t until my junior year of college that I began taking core magazine writing and editing classes. I had worked several journalism internships by then, where I still argue I learned the most influential skills for my career, but I was only now getting to the meat of my education. Fourteen years of schooling had finally led me to the anticipated, advantageous final two.

Tuition for a non-Missouri resident at the University of Missouri is $688.10 a credit hour, not including each department’s additional fees. To be eligible to start my core sequence, I had to have taken 60 credit hours. The amount of money wasted through this method is ludicrous. While elective FS 2195, Grapes and Wines of the World, was nothing short of pleasurable, was it worth my $2,100?

I don’t think students should be locked into a specific path or field, but I do think we should allow students in the United States to specialize their education sooner. As I’ve mentioned before, a liberal education is invaluable, especially for a journalist. Math is important. Journalists who can amass and interpret data can cover more of the world in a shorter time than reporters who just spill prose based on what they see, but calculus doesn’t make you data savvy. Statistics does and it’s too pressing a global language for journalists to neglect, so why not create a course specifically geared toward that? Statistics skills and tactics vary across majors but the courses currently do not.

In Great Britain, the education system is divided into nursery (ages 3-4), primary education (4-11), secondary education (11-18) and tertiary education (18+). Full-time education is compulsory for all children aged between 5 and 16; students may then continue their secondary studies for a further two years — sixth form — leading to tertiary education—most typically a four-year college.  Great Britain’s sixth form is what I’m proposing for the U.S., something different from technical diplomas that are slowly becoming more popular.

At 16, for sixth form, students are advised to ask themselves:

  • What are you good at and what do you enjoy? Most people do better when they study a subject they like.
  • Do you want to learn something new? For many courses, you may not need any previous experience.
  • What course structure will suit you? Do you prefer end-of-year exams, continual assessment, or a mixture of both?
  • Where do you want the course to lead? Does it fit in with your long-term plans?

Students in Great Britain study those subjects that pertain to them and take A-Level exams in those subjects as an entrance assessment for universities that specialize in those specific areas.

Last week President Obama set a goal for the nation to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. He didn’t necessarily mean the four-year colleges that people imagine; skills could come from a range of institutions — community college, technical schools and apprenticeship programs. The goal is to send students to places where they can learn the skills and knowledge that prepare them for a range of jobs — jobs that are in high demand, many of the fastest-growing and higher-paying jobs in the economy.

However, as long as the traditional, four-year college remains this strong and popular, we have to reform it. What do you propose as the fix?

Ladan Nikravan

Ladan Nikravan

Ladan Nikravan is a senior editor of Chief Learning Officer magazine. She is from Chicago and graduated from the University of Missouri School Of Journalism, where she majored in magazine journalism. Prior to joining MediaTec, Ladan worked as a reporter for the Columbia Missourian newspaper, Vox magazine, Chicago Home Improvement magazine and American Builders Quarterly. Although a writer at heart, she has dipped her toes into most facets of the publishing world: feature writing, hard news and column writing; freelancing; copy editing; page design; Web design and some photography. She can be reached at
Ladan Nikravan

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