Is College Wrapped in Red Tape? – Danny Kramer

I went to a pretty small high school. A public high school in suburban New York, my graduating class had fewer than 250 students. By senior year you knew the names of most of the teachers, even a lot of the ones you never had yourself. Our principal, Joe Rainis, took some time each day to stand in the main hallway and remember students’ faces, and there was only one extra door between his office and the lobby. Teachers eating lunch who didn’t have time to get to the teacher’s lounge or leave the building would use an empty room, and if students were in the room with the same idea these teachers took time to talk and hang out.

Everything was small and close. Each department had its own wing, with quotes of world leaders painted on the walls of the History wing and the first 100 digits of pi written on the math wall. In fact, my high school is across the street from my school district’s one kindergarten, and the high school and kindergarten teachers share the same parking lot. When I was in kindergarten, my older sister was in the tenth grade right across the street, and sometimes she came to visit me while I was outside for recess!

Another thing I didn’t appreciate at the time, but certainly do in hindsight, is how centralized administration was. All details of school operation and procedure—class registration, clubs, extracurriculars, career outreach, college application, and more—ran out of the main office, whose entrance was 10 feet beyond Lynbrook High School’s front door. Activities that spanned the middle and high schools—trips, mentoring programs, and large club or musical events—required visiting central administration. Easy enough—this building was on the opposite side of the kindergarteners building from the high school. There are few suburban districts that can draw a straight line less than 100 yards long from the high school to the kindergarten to the administration. There is even a hallway connecting the kindergarten to the administration offices, and when I was five years old I saw the board of education rooms decorated as a haunted house for the kindergarten’s Halloween.

College, on the other hand, is a very different story. There are just so many more people, from undergrads to grad students to professional school students to support staff to professors to deans, it’s nearly impossible to keep it all straight! Campus can be pretty scattered, and even urban school with less spread may be even more confusing on the map because their buildings are integrated with the surrounding city. The bureaucracy that undergrads alone are forced to handle is enormous—arriving on campus, housing, registering for classes, joining extracurriculars, starting clubs, student government, employment and post-grad opportunities.

All of these require registration paperwork, which must be obtained, completed, and submitted, as well as more documentation of activities as they proceed and application and approval of specific events and activities within these endeavors. Often, each step may have to be done in a different place. As one writer at the College Bound Network online put it: “To start that club, you’ll have to get Form A from Office X, and get it signed by Mr. V and Dean Z. If you want to break into a “closed” class, you’ll need Prof. Y’s permission, and approval from Provost B who works in Building H.” A, X, V, Z, Y, B, and H?! That’s already seven pieces of information for 1 club and 1 class, all of which must be accessed in a well-timed and specific order. Let’s use this to motivate a thought experiment: Imagine the average college student, who may take five class per semester (10 per year) each has its own syllabus, required supplies, and set of expectations, and in that same time could be in a combined 4 unique clubs and/or extracurriculars, while also living in a new location each year depending on the school’s housing situation, and by the time upperclassmen years hit we have to remember internship applications. That’s over 50 points of data just to build a schedule! If we added on top of that the individual details required for each of these activities, we’d run out of space to keep counting.

This is where my hope for Proper Channel’s college section comes into play. If educational institutions uniformly adopted our model, we could streamline all of this red tape. Imagine opening up one webpage where you could type in the name of a club at your school, and like magic an authoritative flow chart appears listing every step required to join and be involved. Type in the name of a class, and you get a list of all the requirements to get through the semester that you should see before deciding to enroll, without accessing secondary course webpages and online syllabi. Type in an employment opportunity or area of occupational interest, and you get all the steps required to land that dream job.

Harvard has begun this process with CS50 Courses, a webtool developed by the team that runs Harvard’s cult-status 700-person intro to coding class, Computer Science 50. But it could be better, and bigger. In the coming months I’ll have more posts specifically focusing on college applications, course registration, and job opportunities, but for now stay tuned, and check out this page to see more of the problem we’re trying to address: