Friday, April 10, 2009

What's the point of College

In the past number of months I've been reading the Brazen Careerist, and I've seen a number of blog posts that can essentially be boiled down to this: "I could have learned what I learned in college on my own!" Now I've also seen a blog post on the UMassOnline Blog about the debate over three year colleges, and I see more connections.

There are a few things that people should understand about college, but generally don't. First it seems that higher education is pushed on unsuspecting high school kids as the only respectable option. Trade schools seem to have gone by the wayside, thus college is billed more for its ability to to get you a job once you graduate (which may or may not be true) rather than the ability to expand your mind.

I don't blame people on Brazen careerist because I was once like them, until I realized the value of higher education for me. I was in the sciences. Technically what I learned what a marketable skill and I could use it to get a job in the field. The same goes for other hard sciences like chemistry and physics (just to name a couple). For people in the humanities the story is different. Those soft skills they learned need more work to be applied in a work environment, and generally people coming out of college are not equipped to make those connections. I know that I certainly wasn't!

I think that there is value in higher education, it just isn't necessarily the get-you-a-CEO-position value that some people are looking for. Liberal Arts and Humanities education is important, but so is learning a trade. So where is this rant-like-post heading? Well, it's heading toward the 3 year degree and how I am against it.

I've had classmates that went through their BA in three years. They took any course that satisfied some sort of requirement, performed, got the grade, moved on without thinking about what they had learned. This is the intellectual equivalent of going to a buffet, stuffing yourself without taking the time to feel all the different flavors and how they intertwine to make something new. I feel like this three year degree is the wrong direction for college students because it encourages grinding through a BA without much though just to get a piece of paper. It's a bit exploitative in my opinion on the part of higher education institutions that do this - focusing more on getting money rather than the ultimate education of the individual.

Now there is an example where I can see the three year model working. If the curriculum is created, and set, and it is designed to intertwine all the knowledge learned in previous classes (no matter the discipline) so that in the end students don't just learn in these separate islands of knowledge, but they have bridges from one island to the other to connect it all up and expand their horizons.

What do you think?




Here are some of those posts for your reading enjoyment:
The library card versus the college degree
Do We Really Need Higher Education?!
Is College a Rip-off?
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