I recently joined StumbleUpon (and would love it if you joined, too, and “stumbled” me and any of my blog posts that you have enjoyed by using the little “thumbs-up” icon.) This morning I received my first batch of “recommendations,” and it included this post from The Stump, which appears to be an opinion column on OregonLive.
The gist of the article is that “higher education” has been rendered meaningless by the admission of huge numbers of unqualified students. The author’s premise seems to be that it is “higher education” itself that is at fault, because its mandate is to expand/profit as much as possible.
…the quality of education being delivered to a majority of students is closer to remedial high school rather than college….The problem is that about half of our student population shouldn’t be [in college] for academic or motivational reasons. Why are they there, then? Because the higher education business, in its zeal to keep expanding, has convinced us that everyone “has to” go to college regardless of what they get out of it. We have managed to raise the bar for getting any kind of menial job to a bachelor’s degree and are well on the way to requiring a master’s to qualify for a barista position.
I don’t entirely disagree, but I think some of this blame is misplaced.
The fact that we all now think that a bachelor’s degree is necessary to do ANYTHING is a larger societal problem, and not, I don’t think, one that the educational institutions alone have created. It has its roots in an attitude that service jobs, technical professions and skilled trades are somehow less valuable than professions that require rigorous intellectual training.
That said, the intellectual training itself is not particularly valued – college students (and their parents) often complain about required English and humanities courses, for example, saying that they have nothing to do with the professions they eventually want to pursue.
What’s more, part of the problem is that students are graduating from high school, and even getting relatively good marks, without having basic skills or knowledge. The primary and secondary school curriculum and policies in Quebec, for example, have now reached the point that it is in some cases almost impossible for students to fail a grade, even if they don’t show up for half the year or they don’t pass a single assignment. Every semester I deal with students whose minds are blown because they are going to fail my course, even though “I came to every class and handed in all the work” – the fact that they got failing grades on everything doesn’t seem to factor in for them.
The major issue, though, is that students, whether or not they have any talent or inclination toward academics, feel that college is their only option. There are simply not enough other paths students can take toward a rewarding and financially viable career, and, what’s more, parents may not encourage their children to pursue the paths that do exist.
This may be changing – lately in Quebec there has been more public promotion of skilled trades and technical professions that require more career-focused training and less “academic” work. Some CEGEPs are offering more certificate programs where students can receive a career-specific diploma without having to complete General Studies courses (English, French, Humanities and Physical Education.)
One step toward a solution would be for parents and children to sit down together and discuss what the child really (and realistically) wants to do, at least for now, and whether college is the best place for the child to learn to do it. If students don’t feel that college is for them at the moment, parents need to help them determine other realistic and responsible options (technical or trade school, or working and paying some minimal rent at home for now, for example), and make it clear that college is not the only choice that they, the parents, will support. Parents need to make it clear to children that being an electrician, a restaurant manager or a pet groomer is a noble profession if one has a talent and inclination for it, and that these choices are no less valuable, in their minds, than going to university to pursue more “academic” fields. Finally, students also need to be reassured that if they don’t like or do well in school, college may not be for them, but that if they change their minds a few years down the road, the option of college will still be available.
Railing against the greed and imperial mentality of institutions of higher education is not getting at the heart of the issue. There are much larger forces at work here.