The True Value of a Gap Year
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) Last week Slate reporter Jordan Weissman wrote an article on "Tufts 1+4," the school's pilot program to fund service oriented years abroad for incoming freshmen. "Tufts," he wrote of 1+4, "will now fund gap years so needy teenagers can get drunk abroad."
Weissman, who clearly spent more time on his punchy headline than he did on research, then dedicated the brief piece to the principle that college students are drunken buffoons who can't be trusted under just about any circumstances. Perhaps he just missed the studies showing that this is, in fact, the most service oriented generation in modern history?
The Tufts 1+4 is, in fact, the kind of program that every university should have.
For readers unfamiliar, 1+4 is a program to connect incoming students with service opportunities at home and abroad. It will offer funding as well as a one year placement at partner organizations around the world. Students will go, work, then come back to resume their formal educations the following fall having seen the world and even helped build a bit of it.
The school has dubbed it a "bridge year," according to Dean of Tisch College Alan Solomont, because "a gap year is a space or a hole. A bridge is something different."
"This initiative is simply a way of giving incoming freshmen a way to begin their education," Solomont said. "There's a pretty good body of research that indicates that students who take the time before starting their college studies to do this kind of service work actually do better in college, are better prepared for their careers and are more ready to learn."
One of the great purposes of a college education is to broaden students' minds. You don't attend a university to learn who won the Battle of Hastings (the French). You go to learn how to think and to challenge your points of view. How better to do that than by spending a year of service in Senegal? How better than by having to adapt to a new culture and way of life?
People like Weissman who fret about the various debaucheries of teenagers should support gap year programs like this one even more. Students who take time off before college generally return considerably more mature than their peers and better equipped to take advantage of their college education.
"There's evidence," Solomont said, "that young people of this age, 18-19 years old, are very moved. [They] are very well positioned for this kind of experience to really have a transformative effect on them, to introduce them to communities that are very different than what they come from."
"They're going to be pushed out of their comfort zones," he added.