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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.

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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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