Education: “The Sky Is Falling” Part II

Chicken Little

So now that we feel better about the k-12 system, let’s delve a bit into higher education.   No one seems to be outright accusing the higher education system of failure just yet, however, there are some mumblings that the system is not adequately preparing students for jobs, the ones in the real world anyway.  The loudest beating drum though appears to be the rising costs of higher education and the egregious expenses associated with the accrual of student loan debt.

The issue at the core of this is the focus on a job at the end of a college career.  It’s not that jobs aren’t an important part of this equation, but unfortunately they become the only part of the equation we focus on.  Statistically, students graduating with a college degree still have a higher probability of finding employment, any employment, which really should be the focus.  I would assume it’s better to be underemployed than unemployed and sometimes, experience is necessary and helpful in finding better jobs.  I have seen many students graduate and walk out the door expecting to make a six figure salary and unwilling to work their way up to that level.  Now I get that this is not every college graduate.  Many can’t find good jobs, even the ones that are willing to work, but that is more a market factor and it’s not permanent.  Sometimes it is just about gaining experience and working up to a position they want or feel they deserve.

Education is about creating a better citizenry, not just jobs.  If all we can focus on is the outcome of a college degree, which these days is about a job, and not the true purpose of higher education; then we might as well go back to trade schools and forget about actually providing a well-rounded education to students that hopefully enhances their ability to be well-rounded human beings.  By graduating well-rounded students who can critically and creatively think and contribute to society, we will promote a well-rounded and critically evaluative society.  This is about promoting culture and understanding.  It’s about students having a general idea about how the world works. It’s about expanding their horizons and opening their eyes to the wonders of the world itself.  It’s about inspiring curiosity.  This will directly impact our competitiveness in a world market because without a well-rounded education, we will not be able to critically think and evaluate.  Now in this respect our colleges and universities are not failing, yet anyway.  As we focus more and more on jobs and less on the finer components of education, we start removing programs and departments like humanities from our universities because they don’t directly lead to high paying jobs.  Without the humanities, are we not somehow removing a critical component of being human?

Ironically, what most employers seem to be asking for is exactly this.  They want employees who can communicate, critically evaluate and problems solve (sounds much like humanities courses).  Problem is, all students focus on are grades and test scores.  This goes back to the k-12 system where everything is now about standardized test scores.  These tests don’t promote any of the aforementioned skill sets.  In fact, they actually detract from those 3 skills and this becomes all they know and how they think.  It’s not about learning, it’s about a grade.  This thinking transfers into college and alas, into the workforce.  Want a more creative work force?   Allow more creativity and flexibility in our k-12 system.  Want problem solvers?  Don’t focus on the outcomes.  There are many different paths to solving a problem.  Want people who can think and communicate?  It’s called the humanities.

The egregious costs of higher education and MOOC’s: asset or hindrance?  That’s another entire blog posts.