Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What Do You Get For A College Degree

McClatchy has two related articles today. In this first one we find that students may not be learning as much at college as we'd hope:

An unprecedented study that followed several thousand undergraduates through four years of college found that large numbers didn't learn the critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication skills that are widely assumed to be at the core of a college education.

Many of the students graduated without knowing how to sift fact from opinion, make a clear written argument or objectively review conflicting reports of a situation or event, according to New York University sociologist Richard Arum, lead author of the study. The students, for example, couldn't determine the cause of an increase in neighborhood crime or how best to respond without being swayed by emotional testimony and political spin.

In the second article we are told that college degrees are so expensive that perhaps career-related certificates are the way to go:

Omid Khofasani wants to be a pharmacist — without taking on huge student loans.

So the 35-year-old is paying about $1,700 for a nine-month course at nearby Foothill College that leads to a pharmacy technician certificate and a chance to earn a solid middle-class wage of up to $60,000 a year as he works his way through pharmacy school.

"It's short, it's fast and it's cheap," says Khofasani, who earned an engineering degree in Iran but now works at a carpet store.

Labor economists and some educators believe career-driven degrees should become an increasingly common choice and are advising students to pursue skills-oriented fields of study they feel offer better job opportunities. Fueling the trend is the worst economic decline in more than 70 years and a slowly falling unemployment rate of 9.4 percent. Add to that the staggering total of $830 billion in student debt nationally.

Having received a high-quality liberal education myself, I'm not sold on the idea that it's better just to get job training. When done well (and correctly), there is much value to be gained from having a broad education. On the other hand, given the crap courses to which too many gravitate today (aggrieved victim studies, for example) which are entirely illiberal, perhaps a certificate that enables a middle-class career isn't such a bad thing.


Ellen K said...

The problem is that we have dumbed down the university curriculum and allowed an aura of guilt pass marginal students when they should be held back. The pressure to pass scholarship students even when they don't succeed is immense. And the unwillingness of many administrations to require scholarship students to adhere to minimal standards based on little more than ethnic balance is what drives this.

Anonymous said...

I just realized, after making it to Calc 3, Linear Algebra, and Differential Equations...no teacher defined what a number is to me. Or what exactly the plus sign, the minus sign, etc. really mean. Or gave the history of math (or whatever field of study we were in). It's been incredibly satisfying to just go back and look up the jargon and history of the fields of study I went through (Wikipedia and typing in "define:{insert word}" into Google helped). And actually reading the textbook and looking at glossaries helps (though in Math textbooks they tend to be about techniques rather than the philosophical stuff behind it).

Indeed, I think maybe if I were to commit the definitions to memory, I'd feel like I finally put the mortar on the bricks that build up the education. It helps to remove the "What in the heck is this and why are we doing it" feeling. Or the "I got an A in this class and I feel guilty because I can't even define the words/forgot them the day after the test, let alone talk deeply about the content of the class" feeling.

Erin K. said...

While it's true that college educations aren't necessarily all they're cracked up to be, can't we say the same of high school? Our high school students should also be learning critical thinking, complex reasoning, and written communication skills. The really sad thing, to me, is that college is the new high school.