Just one course at a time at Colorado College

An experimental "block plan" begun at Colorado College in 1970 has apparently passed the test. No longer an experiment, it seems to be a permanent feature at this private liberal arts college with an enrollment of 1,850 students.

In fact, according to a researcher who recently completed a six-year, $153, 000 study of Colorado College's block plan, its success "is unique in the 340 -year history of education in the United States" and "is laying the foundation to make believers out of many looking on from the outside."

Briefly, the plan is a system of study under which students take only one course at a time for 3 1/2 weeks, then have a week off before beginning another 3 1/2-week course. Each of the study periods, extended over the course of the normal college year, is called a "block," and the period between blocks is a "block break."

In theory, students cover a semester's worth of work in each concentrated 3 1 /2-week block. Each day they are required to complete work that would normally be spread over several days. At the end of a traditional semester, each one will have completed four or five courses, as is the case at other colleges, but will have taken -- and supposedly mastered -- each of the courses one at a time instead of all at once.

Colorado College was the first four-year college in the United States to experiment with this program, which has had some success in European schools. Until this fall, when Cornell College of Mount Vernon, Iowa, adopted a similar plan, the Colorado school was the only one in the United States operating on this concept.

To commemorate the tenth year of the block plan, results of the six-year evaluation were presented to faculty and students by Dr. Paul Heist, a professor of education at the University of California in Berkeley.

Dr. Heist said research for his 201-page evaluation included interviews with thousands of former students, comparisons of the Colorado students with those at other colleges, surveys of data received from faculty members, and school records.

As part of the evaluation, he said, samples of the work of 50 students were compared by a panel of educators with the work of 50 students from each of two other private liberal arts colleges, Macalester, in St. Paul, Minn., and Knox, Galesburgh, Ill. The Colorado students were found to have the highest achievement in their major fields, but the Macalester students were found to have a wider general grasp of liberal arts.

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