A few college courses begin to acknowledge the role of bedroom communities in American life

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No, you probably can't get college credit for watching the scandalous adventures of Desperate Housewives, but if you look hard enough on American campuses you'll find an occasional course on literature of the suburbs, a seminar discussing Crabgrass Frontier and other discourses on the growth of suburbia.

Increasingly, if still a bit disdainfully, academia is beginning to pay attention to the 'burbs, home for years now to at least half of all Americans.

"Emerging" is the assessment Robert E. Lang gives to suburban studies on most college campuses. He's the founding director of the Metropolitan Institute on Virginia Tech's satellite campus in Alexandria, Va. The institute is one of a handful of academic think tanks that have sprung up around the country in recent years - including in Maryland - that study suburbia as well as cities.

"Places like Fairfax, that's where the future is made or broken," declares Lang, who calls himself "a student of the suburbs."

The outer Washington suburbs where Lang lives are typical of what he calls "mega" counties that are transforming the American landscape - huge, rapidly growing communities with no towns or cities at their core.

Compared with cities, suburbs still get little respect as a topic for serious study on many campuses, except perhaps as examples of the pathology of American society. Getting a bachelor's degree in suburban studies might be years away - though one can pick up a minor at George Mason University, a commuter-oriented school in Washington's Virginia suburbs.

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