One hour of lecture costs about $165, provided you are enrolled in four academic courses for that semester and each course meets for two and a half hours a week. At over $42,000 per academic year, our Brown education is expensive.
This is no surprise to Brown students. The consciousness of increasing tuition rates is apparent and acknowledged everywhere from the Office of Financial Aid to the national media. However, my concern is not about how Brown is expensive, but how Brown’s program justifies its cost. The school’s Ivy League education offers its students a plethora of opportunities and benefits that include and extend beyond the classroom, but as an undergraduate, I immediately find the courses that the student chooses and the concentration shaped by those choices to be the most important.
What is unique about Brown is that students have remarkable freedom with their course choices. With the New Curriculum, Brown puts faith and responsibility in the hands of its students, allowing its students to be “the architects of their education.” The New Curriculum basks comfortably in all its liberalness on College Hill without any moderation or backbone to temper the liberty of its program. It thrusts its undergraduates into a swarm of academia, but does not inspire direction within it. Many undergraduates meander during their earlier semesters at Brown instead of pursuing certain exploratory academic foundations or goals. Their meandering catches up with them late second semester of their sophomore year, when only then they are required to plan out future courses in fulfillment of their concentration. Suddenly, they regret initiating their college education so haphazardly.
Not every Brown student has such woes, but such an experience is not foreign to those who had difficulty either planning or fulfilling the concentration of their choice. I entered my junior year with nine out of 10 courses to fulfill for my history concentration in the next two years. I only started planning potential concentrations the first semester of my sophomore year, and I began challenging my concentration decisions the following semester. I will be able to fulfill my requirements, but it is frustrating to be strained during my last two years at Brown, especially seeing that I put relatively little thought into the process during my freshman year.
It is partially my fault, but beyond myself, I have met with a number of other students in a similar situation with similar frustrations. Thus, there is more reason to doubt that Brown students are consistently the best architects of their education, because they may be distracted or misguided. Freshmen, after all, just graduated from high school; what do they know about building a genuine liberal education?
In that degree, I am inclined to find fault in Brown’s advising system and to ask what Brown’s advising faculty are actively doing to prevent mid-college concentration stress. Perhaps the advisers misunderstand the New Curriculum more than the students do — they advise students to do whatever they want or feel, which runs with the liberal mantra of Brown’s curriculum, but, once again, does not necessarily engage the student in any academic direction or ambition. In this way, without compelling students to make strong and insightful decisions about their education, Brown’s advisers throw their advisees onto the liberal playground to enroll in classes at whim.
This haphazard course planning could be solved with a number of simple measures. One easy proposition involves the “Letter to Your Adviser,” which every student wrote the summer before their freshman year. The student writes about 500 words to their adviser about their potential academic interests at Brown, which, in the process, urges the student to reflect on what they hope to gain from their Brown education. While it could be argued that incoming freshmen put little thought into these quickly written letters the month before orientation, this process would be very beneficial to these students if it were continued through sophomore year. A lot of one’s perspective on college, Brown, and concentrations change in the first year. Wouldn’t it be effective to reflect on these changes at each semester interval? Writing is a good means of organizing one’s thoughts, and communicating these developing thoughts to an adviser will allow for a more fruitful and compelling discussion of the potential of your Brown education.
A little more advising is, in no way, antithetical to the New Curriculum and, if done right, can only augment the myriad academic opportunities available at Brown. This better system can be reached if Brown’s advising program is strengthened and refined. Brown’s advisers need to constantly challenge their advisees to reflect on the choices they make and ensure that they are aware of the education they are building. Our four years at Brown are simply too valuable and too expensive to be shaped by a slow recognition of what a liberal education actually is.