Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Who Let The Students Out?

I'm a little concerned about this: The Case Against College Education

First, let me explain. I don't think college is appropriate for everyone. I also don't think a college degree should be required for every job; why a local ice cream shoppe is screening for college degrees, I do not know. I also fully support technical and vocational training, both as an alternative to and in addition to so-called "traditional" college.

Still, I have to question the author's choice of approach. Not only does he challenge the notion that people don't need four expensive years of college to be well-rounded (likely true, at least in theory), he claims that socially-mandated college is "tell[ing] millions of kids that their future depends on performing a task that only a minority of them can actually accomplish". Not that the kids shouldn't have to go, or don't want to go, but that they actually are unable to obtain a college degree.

Why, exactly, can "only a minority" obtain a degree? Do they lack the critical reading and writing skills to do well? If so, they certainly won't fare well in many professions, including the author's suggestion of journalism. Do they lack the direction and drive necessary for college? That could also be a serious impediment to success in "the real world".

I don't know about you all, but I had some bad teachers. I had a few bad professors too, but none of them were as educationally devastating as bad teachers. (The one coming to mind actually refused to learn our names, and instead addressed us by assigned number. She also had a penchant for ripping up homework assignments and then marking them incomplete. Talk about a wasted year.) I also had some amazing teachers, but they were bound by a lot of school district bunk. It basically meant that instead of learning to write effectively, we had to wait around until we'd learned everything that was going to be on the Prairie State Achievement Exam. Another wasted year, though less filled with fear. But when I graduated, I knew a lot about similes, metaphors, and quadratic equations and not a lot about artful communication, practical skills, or how to formulate and achieve long-term goals.

A lot of my best education, inside and out of the curriculum, came in college. I left college feeling like I had options. No matter if I decided to be a doctor or a puppeteer, I hadn't gone wrong. If I'd had to make my career choice when I was 17, I think I'd be in real deep doo-doo right now.

Fortunately for me and the future students I need to fill up my classes so I remain employed, some people aren't accepting this author's take on kids' inability to finish college, and are actually trying to do something about dismal graduation rates. I like to call it the Academic Bailout. The article makes it sound like they're throwing money at the problem, but at least they're looking for underlying reasons for why people aren't finishing their degrees. I'd always rather have answers than assertions.

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