With college costs soaring, new grads staggering under record amounts of debt, and a grim employment picture, you’d think students (and universities) would be buckling down and focusing on serious academic pursuits.Wrong! Crazy courses are a long-time college tradition. But even in the wake of the Great Recession, course catalogues are still loaded with goofy, lightweight classes, and students still are lining up to take them. Many of these offbeat offerings are consistently enrolled to capacity, and some, like “Geology and Cinema” or “Sport for the Spectator” are among the most popular classes on campus. On a per-credit basis, these classes cost just as much as organic chemistry or applied physics.
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But students today often aren’t very interested in those more traditional offerings, says Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory who wrote The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30). Instead they buy into – and contribute to – what Bauerlein calls “the progressive dumbification of the college curriculum.”
Colleges and universities contribute to the problem by focusing on selling themselves instead of delivering a good education, he says. In an increasingly business-like world of higher education, appealing to high school seniors with a hip course catalogue brings in more applications, which allows a school to be choosier, which in turn gives a university a higher selectivity ranking – a hot commodity in a fiercely competitive industry.
“If you kept [college] requirements high and kept courses demanding and rigorous, you’re going to get a lot of dropouts and dropouts are embarrassing to universities,” Bauerlein says.
Here is our own (somewhat arbitrary) list of the 10 silliest college courses – and how much they cost. All of these are real courses at colleges and universities across the U.S. Some of them are offered every year, some every term; all remain part of the curriculum at their respective colleges.
Oregon State University
$237.17 in-state; $681.17 out-of-state (based on 15 credits/semester)
What do Martin Luther King Jr. and Albus Dumbledore have in common? Nothing, but don't tell that to freshmen at Oregon State University who are pondering such questions. The class is part of an orientation program and is designed to both explore leadership education within the framework of Harry Potter and welcome new freshmen. Which begs the question: When is there too much Expelliarmus?
New York University
Enrollment: 7 (capacity: 10)
Would-be Rick Rubins and DJ AMs can learn to scratch at New York University. Offered for the second summer in a row, the class draws wealthy yet hip students from around the world to study with pros like DJ Shiftee and DJ Rekha. Warning: there is a lab fee.
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
$1,506.80 in-state; $2,168.32 out-of-state
Knocking out your physical science requirement and getting to watch such cinematic gems as Tremors and Journey to the centre of the Earth sounds like a liberal arts student's dream. That's pretty much what it is at the University of Minnesota. Sure, the class has a lab component in which students learn to identify rocks, but the main draw is clearly the chance to spend two hours of class each week watching mainstream movies. That, or sleeping.
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