College Concentration

AT a handful of United States colleges, students take only one course at a time rather than the usual four or five courses per semester or quarter. One school calls it the ``Block Plan,'' another the ``one-course-at-a-time'' program. But under whatever name, this approach of allowing students to concentrate on one subject for about a month at a time seems to appeal to a segment of the higher education community.

Tusculum College in Greeneville, Tenn., plans to start enrolling students in only one course at a time next fall. Since announcing the change, interest in the college has increased dramatically, says Brian Sheetz, director of public relations for the college.

Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colo., initiated the idea of single-course study in 1970, when it established what is known as the ``Block Plan.'' Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, the program is widely recognized as successful.

In 1978, Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, decided to switch to a ``one-course-at-a-time'' schedule. ``We see ourselves as a liberal arts college using this program as a way to renovate the liberal arts and see old subjects in new ways,'' says Dennis Moore, dean of Cornell College.

The one-course approach ``immediately solves a number of problems that regularly plague conventional educational programs,'' Moore says. ``For example, we find that student attendance is basically 100 percent. They come because they know that if they miss a day or two they're missing the equivalent of a week in another course.'' And students generally turn their work in on time as well, he says.

But such a program is not for every student or every school, the administrators agree. It seems to work best at smaller institutions that have extensive facilities. ``When you look at the normal semester system,'' Moore says, ``you see so many problems, so many failings, that certainly some alternatives are in order.''

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