1. Daniel
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    Daniel I'm sure you've heard the rumors. Founder Staff Contributor

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    The problem with higher education in the United States?

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by Daniel, Oct 3, 2013.

    The state of higher education in the U.S. is, frankly, quite poor. The job placement rate is lower than the past, and it seems to me that the general perception of college, college degrees, and the reasons to go to college aren't where they should be. From a students perspective, professors give massive amounts of homework, with some classes repeating the same material, which results in students having a lot of work they already know or a lot of work that doesn't really help them learn - this leads to lack of time, and often, demotivation and dissatisfaction with their schooling (they're "learning" inefficiently instead of actually learning something valuable and applicable).

    As graduates, sure, students have a degree to get jobs, but the job market is so saturated; it seems to me that part of the problem is that the structure of higher education (the learning environment, method of teaching, lack of out-of-the-box thinking, and societal perception) results in both students and professors having the opinion that the purpose of college/university is to get a degree to get a job. While this is a purpose, I firmly believe the primary purpose and focus should be to learn and develop a skillset.

    I'd love to hear some thoughts on these problems and their causes.
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I'll post more thoughts later, but for right now I just want to say that the problem with higher education is that it costs way too much.
     
  3. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do we need to ask more fundamental questions here?

    There is, of course, a feeling afoot that tertiary education as it's now constituted (on both sides of the Atlantic) is pretty much a waste of time for vast numbers of folk. You know the deal: a chap gets a passable grade in English and media studies (or whatever) and finds himself wholly unemployable on leaving university.

    Not sure about current attitudes to external links - though I'm up to speed on the rules - but (the rather brilliant) thelastpsychiatrist has a bracing/ provocative series on the matter (Hipsters on food stamps). I commend it while not wholly agreeing with it.
     
  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Well, you and I spoke about this in a different venue the other day @Daniel, and my opinion remains the same. The education I received at the DLIFLC, which was very much a skill oriented environment (some might even call it a military vocational school) is still the education I apply in my work life, though I took a degree in applied linguistics later in life.
     
  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I may be wrong here, but engineers seem to have a better chance of finding a job out of college. Computer science is a really hot field right now. I know several people with CS degrees who got job offers straight of out college (3 BS, 1 MS). My brother will be finishing his PhD in CS in December, but he already has a few job offers. For a lot of other degrees, however, I would say you're right. I know quite a few people with college degrees and with either part-time jobs or jobs they don't really want (bartender, waitress, etc.). So in a lot of cases a college degree ends up being just a piece of paper. Quite frankly, it's who you know and not what you know that gets you a job.

    I agree. Most students don't seem to value their education. They don't make an effort to learn. I think parents are partly to blame here. If parents don't encourage their kids to learn and read and ask questions, the kids aren't going to value education and learning in the long run. But that's just part of the problem. As you say, the very structure of education is messed up.
     
  6. BillC
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    BillC Member

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    Conversations I've had with my seniors this year: "So, what are your plans after grad?" "Imma go to uni, do a degree in accounting," they reply.

    "Cool. What do you want to do with that then?" I ask, thinking I'll hear about their plans to get a gig in London, or stay in Oz, work hard, get a good grad entry program with one of the banks/big firms, etc.

    "I dunno. I'll probably change majors after the first year, but you gotta go to uni you know?"

    I tell my students that they're better off taking a year to figure our what they want, get a job in the meantime and see if they WANT to waste 4 years and $50k in loans to have a 'uni experience'. The smart ones pick a trade and by the time the 'aimless accountant' has graduated from uni, the tradie has their ticket and is one or two years into their life. By. The time the accountant has paid off their loan, the tradie has paid off a house.

    College/Uni is not a place to figure out what you want. I reckon most people could do with a year or two of dreadful jobs before going to college - they'll really appreciate the opportunity and work harder.
     
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  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I don't completely agree with this. A lot of students start college not knowing what they're going to study, which is perfectly fine. Part of the college experience is figuring out what you like and don't like. What you say about spending all that money is true, however. I think a lot of people believe that going to a prestigious college is worth the debt. Sure, you more likely have more opportunities in the upper tier schools, but you also graduate with a ton of debt (over $100k in some cases). If you get a scholarship to these schools, then great. If not, then I believe picking a cheaper school is better, even if it's lower ranked. The amount of student debt today is outrageous.
     
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  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The universities promote a myth that people with college degrees earn more than those without them. It isn't isn't a lie, but it's certainly misleading.

    Professions that favor or require a college degree are higher paying than those for which a smaller percentage of workers have attended college. It does NOT mean that if you are in a professional position and earn a degree, you will be shifted into a higher pay bracket.

    In order to get in to that higher pay range, you need to change your profession, or at least your job role. And for it to justify the stratospheric expense and time investment of college, it has to be a job or role you couldn't have attained without the degree.

    There are positions you cannot hope to step into without that investment, such as becoming a physician or a lawyer. But for many (most?) people entering college, they will incur a huge debt without significantly increasing their earning potential.

    Don't get me wrong. I'm all in favor of education. But for me, I learn more studying independently than I do in college. I have a degree, with a top range grade point average. But attending college did get in the way of my education.
     
  9. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Whatever happened to the idea of going to university to enhance your experience of life? It's not all about learning a skillset you can turn into money at some job when you graduate. It's about exposing yourself to fields of knowledge you may never even have heard of, meeting highly intelligent people with different backgrounds, living in an intense and highly-stimulating environment, and generally blowing your mind. My university years were some of the best of my life, and it wasn't because of what my professors were teaching me.

    Of course, I went to university in Canada, where higher education was (is? I don't know these days) a lot less expensive than it is in the USA. I was also able to work during alternate terms (it was a cooperative education program) and use the money I earned to pay tuition. When I left school I had no debt.
     
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  10. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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  11. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is actually a hugely complicated issue that I spend a lot of time pondering. There are several factors, though, that make it particularly complex.

    First, somewhere along the line, especially in the U.S. there emerged this idea that skilled trades -- that is, trades where one worked more with his hands, such as plumbers, or electricians, were somehow less worthy than professions where one didn't engage in a lot of physical labor, but had to make more use of particularized knowledge. Even people who were in those trades had the idea that they wanted their kids to do something "better." I think one issue we face is that we need to make those skilled trades "respectable" again. And face it, you have to have some intellectual ability to be a good plumber or electrician. And I want to utilize plumbers who are smart -- I don't want to deal with morons. And to be a good plumber, etc., you should be smart -- especially if you own your own business. So we're doing ourselves a real disservice by 'looking down' on these trades.

    There was also this factor that only those who were already wealthy and privileged could take the opportunity to do things like engage in purely intellectual endeavors -- sit around and discuss various philosophies, etc. So there was a notion that to be able to do this did indicate that one was at a certain station in life.

    Especially after WWII, when people turned more family and kid-focused, and the GI Bill enabled many people who otherwise would not have gone to college to go, college came to be seen as the ticket to upward mobility. To a large extent, this was true, with the population boom, and the huge investments in science that the US was making, as well as the US financial position relative to the rest of the world.

    But now, we've kind of reached the end of that momentum. And the rest of the world has caught up (and in many cases, surpassed us) in terms of economic and educational opportunities.

    Against this backdrop, this idea that college is absolutely necessary for any decent job has taken root. But it's become extremely expensive, as tuition costs have skyrocketed. This necessity is somewhat self-reinforced, as people who have a college degree don't have job opportunities, so they end up taking jobs that previously did not require a college degree. Since now, companies could hire people with a college degree for the same amount of money and with the same ease that they could hire folks without a college degree, that college degree has now become a necessity, even though the job itself did not really require it. So, we now have this perverse situation where this hypothetical person getting job X now needs a college degree, whereas he didn't previously. At the starting gate, he's at the same position as someone before who obtained this job, but he's got a disadvantage that wasn't present before -- he's got tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars of educational debt, and potentially 4 or more years fewer in the workforce than the person would have had before the college degree requirement.

    Further complicating this is the idea about what college is really about. I strongly believe that it is about so much more than simply what you learn from the particular classes. The real growth and development comes from interacting with other students and from extra curricular activities that enable students to develop real leadership skills.

    However, not everyone wants to do this. People who are going to college solely for the degree to enable them to make money or to get some amorphous, vague "job," (as opposed, for example, to someone who always loved weather and tornadoes and wanted to go to college because they wanted to become a meteorologist) aren't getting the maximum benefit from college. So, if they're only going solely for the information given in the textbooks, and only want that degree at the end, they're better off doing it as cheaply as possible -- community college for 2 years while working, and then transfer to a local, public university, taking possibly 3 or more years while working as much as possible. Someone who isn't going to maximally engage in the intellectual atmosphere that a university has to offer is much more likely to end up much worse off than he would have had he not gone at all, or gone at a slower pace.

    But the opposing factor is this: For those who really engage in college, the benefits are simply immeasurable. The personal growth isn't something you can put a price on. The friendships and the social and intellectual pursuits are cemented at a time when we as humans are finishing up the development of a lot of aspects of our personalities. Things that we do in college can stay with us for our whole lives. So, it is very difficult for me to in any way dissuade someone from going to college. For many people, their college years are, without competition, the best 4 years of their lives.

    But, even for those who do put everything they have into the college experience and obtain a huge benefit from doing so, that doesn't always translate into a financial advantage. It is possible to experience a huge amount of intellectual and personal growth from the college experience. The difficulty is in figuring out how much that is worth.
     
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  12. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    My youngest daughter is at uni in the UK and my middle daughter is at uni in Turkey, the same uni I work at. Both went through foundation art. In the UK you learn skills and are encouraged to develop in your specialist field. At 18 she already knew what she wanted to do at is already networking and selling work. It helps that she's at CSM.
    Unfortunately, in Turkey, the uni prides itself on developing something as close as possible to the US liberal arts system. Hence, my middle daughter has had to do a ton of completely irrelevant topics that she had covered anyway at high school and will have to do a master's degree to be the same standard as the graduates of UK unis.
    I mean no disrespect but I prefer a system where students specialise early, but if people have no clue what career they want, the traditional options can be good for them to develop intellectual, organisational etc skills that will be useful to them in several different fields--or they may just become academics.
     
  13. Edward M. Grant
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    Edward M. Grant Contributing Member

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    #1 Far too many people go to university. Only a tiny fraction really need degrees, and most could get them after they get a job where it will be helpful.
    #2 The government subsidizes student loans, which just increases the amount universities can charge for the degree.

    'Higher education' is a huge bubble that's about to burst as kids realize they're paying huge amounts of money just to keep themselves off the unemployment statistics for a few years before they discover they still can't get a decent job.
     
  14. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    Duchess-Yukine-Suoh Girl #21 Contributor

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    The only reason I'm planning on pursuing higher education is because it's something to fall back on. You don't need a degree to be an English teacher in Japan, or to be a manga-ka.
     
  15. Dragonport
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    Dragonport Member

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    Many of my friends are set on going to a university in the US, for the prestige and "pizazz," higher standard of education, and just to get away from Toronto, though they don't know what they're going to study or what they want to be. They have time to figure it out but to them and generally the people I know, especially their parents, a university degree is the expectation. They don't consider going to college.
    As far as I know, they aren't concerned about the costs. I have a cousin who has a master's degree entirely funded by her parents and probably a scholarship.
     
  16. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Just to clarify a point of vocabulary for the whole of the anglophone constituency here in the forum: In the US, college and university are terms that are very interchangeable in the common parlance. Outside of the US, these terms have much more specific meaning as regards the type of educational institution.

    Continue... :)
     
  17. Dragonport
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    Dragonport Member

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    @Wreybies
    That would explain a lot of what I've read online! I wasn't aware of that; thanks.
     
  18. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I disagree. Nowhere near enough people go to university. As I said above, it's not just about being trained for a job; it's about the environment and the experience.

    Besides, it takes a lot of education to live in modern, highly-connected society. High school - especially in the USA (no offense to well-educated American high school grads) - just doesn't cut it. With the internet, nearly everyone is communicating with people from all over the world every day, and a large number of American high-school grads just aren't equipped to do that. They aren't aware, or comfortable with, other cultures, religious traditions, political systems, etc., and they aren't used to seeing themselves from someone else's viewpoint. I cringe when I see people in forums, or commenting indignantly about news stories, saying "This is America, goddammit" when the people they're arguing with are in Australia, South Africa, Sweden, Germany, India, etc.

    Arrgh.
     
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  19. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    All of my yes.
     
  20. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Do you think it's worth paying tens of thousands of dollars for the environment and experience?

    I agree with you that college is great for learning about other viewpoints, etc. However, I feel that a lot of that can be learned without going to college as well. After all, college is what you make of it, and from what I've seen, most students just go to college for the degree. I think we all agree that the educational system needs to be reformed, but people's attitudes towards education and college need to be changed as well.
     
  21. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. At least, my experience was worth that much.

    But I think higher education should be a lot cheaper. It should be within the financial reach of pretty much everybody. A society that calls itself "rich" should be able to provide that.

    Sure, a ton of stuff can be learned without going to college. Wouldn't it be great to graduate from high school and then spend a couple of years traveling around the world? That would be a heck of an eye-opener for a lot of people.
     
  22. Edward M. Grant
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    Edward M. Grant Contributing Member

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    Tell that to the kids flipping burgers with $100,000 of student loans to pay off for their degree in Tarantino Movie Studies. If they were after experience, they could have had a much better time if they'd spent that $100,000 backpacking around the world.

    Unless they're near a tourist site, those burger-flipping kids rarely meet anyone from outside their own country. They'd have met an awful lot of them on that backpacking trip, and learned far more about them than they would at an American university.
     
  23. graphospasm
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    graphospasm Senior Member

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    Did you know the US has a job surplus problem AND an unemployment problem? How the heck can that be? Mike Rowe gives a compelling argument on America's dysfunctional relationship with work in this YouTube video:
    ((I don't know if the link will be removed or not, so look for "Mike Rowe: America Has a Dysfunctional Relationship with Work" on YouTube. You'll be glad you did.))

    I graduated college in June. I've already found a steady job at a great company. I even use my degree, which no one thought was possible--a BA in creative writing, I'm told, will only get you so far. I have benefits, a 401K, and security. It's just what my parents always wanted for me (ugh).

    I don't love my job. I think the only job I'd love is one that involved being able to live off of my creative work full time. HOWEVER, many of my peers graduated with my same degree and have jobs at coffee shops. I don't love my job, but I'm sure as hell grateful for it.

    Part of my job-getting ability (and one of the differences between myself and my fellow CW graduates) lies in my behavior during college. I joined clubs. I chaired clubs. I had an internship every semester starting my sophomore year. I worked during every vacation and during school itself. I worked for the school paper and lit mags. My resume after college was in prime condition.

    As a result of my extracurricular activities, however, my grades weren't great. I had a 3.1 GPA; nothing to sneeze at but nothing worth bragging about, either. BUT, lo and behold, jobs don't look at your GPA, most of the time. They look at your experience. Compared to graduates with identical degrees, I had experience they needed but lacked, even if and when they had 3.9 or 4.0 GPAs.

    Colleges (and the parents of gen Y kids/millenials who are currently dealing with colleges) convince you that college is the be all, end all of your adult life and career pursuits. They convince you that a degree WILL get you a job the MINUTE you graduate. Heck, my parents told me throughout my pre-college (and post-college) years that anyone who didn't go to college would end up working for minimum wage and was to be treated with condescension mixed with pity. My parents, bless them, both come from small towns with less than 1,000 people. They bit and scratched their way into the upper-middle class, so their perspectives are a little... unforgiving.

    Regardless, many of the kids I knew growing up and many of the kids who went to my college all seemed to believe that getting a good GPA in college would somehow get you a job upon graduation. They focused on studying, not on gaining experience--and college perpetuated this behavior. College stressed the importance of a good GPA. Sure, if you're going to grad-school a good GPA is essential, but for somehow who just wants a BA/BS in business or journalism or whathaveyou so they can get a decent job? For them the acquisition of experience should mean much more than an arbitrary point system that ceases to matter upon graduation. Many of my peers in the creative writing program forgot, sometime during their college years, that experiences matter just as much as (if not more than) education.

    During college I made friends with my professors and asked them to help me get published. They did, and by the time I was 20 I had been featured in a top literary mag. I went online and made calls and found internships and experiences not affiliated with my college, but I had to go out and ask for them. I think many college students forget that there is more to college than classes--but these "more thans" take a little digging to find. They take effort to which the administration doesn't offer advice or aid. Kids have been told so often that college is the ultimate resume-booster that they forget the value of experience. These same kids are the ones who don't have jobs, but I can't really fault them for the things their parents and the administration drummed into their brains from their first day of kindergarten to their last day on a college campus. We need to start touting the value of experience, not credentials, to see a boost in the workforce.

    Seriously, though. Take a look at that video I mentioned. You'll be glad you did.
     
  24. Edward M. Grant
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    Edward M. Grant Contributing Member

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    That will happen. But, for it to happen, most of the 'higher education' business has to be put out of business.

    You can't have cheap universities with expensive facilities. You can't have cheap universities with highly-paid professors teaching small numbers of students. You're looking at bigger classes, lower wages and cheaper facilities. Quite likely, people teaching thousands at a time over the Internet so they don't even need to leave home.

    And then there's the student loan industry, most of which would be put out of business. Then there's the government, which is pushing masses of new credit into the economy through student loans now mortgage lending has dried up.

    None of these people have any incentive to reduce costs until they're forced to. Which won't happen until this generation of graduates start telling their younger relatives 'I went to university for four years and all I got was this lousy $100,000 student loan'.
     
  25. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Your link is fine, @graphospasm. :) I really dig Mike Rowe. He calls things by their real names. ;)
     

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