The College of Liberal and Professional Studies within the School of Arts and Sciences has been receiving a fair amount of attention recently. While there are some issues with the college, overall it continues to offer successful — if sometimes unknown — programs for nontraditional students.
LPS is not alone in the Ivies for serving nontraditional students: Harvard Extension School; Columbia School of General Studies; Brown Resumed Undergraduate Education; and Yale Eli Whitney Students Program. All are designed to give a varying degree of the “Ivy experience” to students who either took a break from studies, were in the military or followed some other path that has now brought them back to pursue undergraduate studies.
Yet LPS is unique in all of these programs as it is the only one which awards the very same degree to its students as the parent school. One of the reasons for this, and one of the main distinctions between LPS and some of its rivals, is that students in LPS can — and usually are — required to take classes with regular College students in their major.
This distinction in class attendance benefits not only students of LPS, but the entire University. There is an intellectual transformation that occurs when members of your class can not only talk about subjects in the classroom, but can share personal experiences that the average undergraduate student will not have had. Students can have the benefit of studying military history, and then hearing the experiences of a veteran who has been in combat. It is accounts such as these that bring real world applications into the classroom and add a dimension to the education that cannot be filled by books alone.
The problem facing LPS now is its rapidly changing student body. While the current system is set up to cater to students who only attend part-time, it doesn’t take into consideration its growing population of full-time students.
This is especially evident in having students participate in class activities. With the current system, LPS students are not assigned to a specific class year, since the programs were designed for part-time students. However, many full-time students who wish to amalgamate with their University colleagues find themselves disappointed. There is no Hey Day, no Ivy Day, no junior “P” sweaters, no Welcome Back Picnics with Amy Gutmann or any other class year based activity, which can be highlights of many traditional undergraduates’ Penn experiences.
Of the restrictions placed on students, most affect and work against those who are attempting to pursue a true university experience. One of these restrictions — only being able to take classes within the declared major of the student — in effect goes against the very foundation upon which the school was created.
While it could be argued that there is no such constraint, as long as reduced tuition is restricted to in-major courses, for the many students who rely on financial aid it is the same as having an institutional regulation. These are students who are returning to an academically rigorous institution, who also have families or other financial burdens that they are bringing with them.
Many of these restrictions, while in the various literature on the program, are not immediately visible to students until they are already enrolled. As reported by The Daily Pennsylvanian, even policies and communication between LPS and other administrative offices, such as Student Financial Services and major departments within the College, are met with confusion or misunderstanding.
Change in an institution as old and large as Penn does not always come quickly, but it does come. The University should be working to ensure LPS stays competitive for nontraditional students, which to date it has done a commendable job on. However, issues of transparency — with prospective students and within the University itself — bear addressing. Finding ways to incorporate those students who wish to fully participate in the University, whether it be class activities or intercollegiate sports, should be given the opportunity to do so without jumping through innumerable hoops or outright denied. It is time the University proves it sees nontraditional students enrolled in LPS as more than just secondhand students and rather as full-fledged members of its rich history.
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