This is no glorified study abroad program. Nor is it a variation—despite its institutional billing—of the negatively perceived “Gap Year.” Tufts’ 1+4 program is neither of these things, really. It’s an educational anomaly.
The 1+4 program is charting new ground for civic engagement. It’s providing incoming freshmen, regardless of financial ability, an unprecedented first-look at organic struggle domestic and international. For a year. For free.
Needless to say, 1+4 is creating waves among traditionally minded service trips. Truthfully, it’s a much-needed disruption of the decidedly predictable higher education model. A model, of course, obsessed with retention and four-year graduation rates—marketable statistics for university administration and important criteria of popular ranking systems.
Involvement at this level is altogether personal and impossible to quantify. Yes, 1+4 does indeed equate to a 5-year undergraduate experience. Because of the program’s key characteristics skeptics might argue that graduates of 1+4 are at a distinct disadvantage. A year late to the job market and a year removed, socially, from the majority of their entering class, participants could be inadequately prepared for entry into the professional world. They might argue it’s backwards in focus—a flipped version of Northeastern University’s famed Co-op program—without enough emphasis on career promise.
However, this is far too technical an observation. This argument is not without a modicum of merit, but it is unbearably restrictive. Not only does it assume that college is a one-size-fits-all experience, but also that an education itself is a means to an end. The 1+4 program is open source for the open-minded. It’s about the individual in the most selfless sense. The academe version of “Tuft” love, the program assumes a level of maturity and intrapersonal understanding among its aspirant. And it ought to. Sensible leaders, after all, are responsible for mapping their own course.