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Ruth

I agree with Prof X's conclusion, but suggest different empirical evidence, based on having tutored people who are going back to college to get degrees so they can get a promotion (who otherwise would not have chosen to go to college) or change careers due to disability or health issues. Most told me their goal was to advance in their career or start a new career, not get a college degree. Sending them to college seems to me as if we're sending them back to GO in a monopoly game, requiring academic skills of them that they may not need for their jobs - or use in their jobs. (Of course this is not always the case - it depends on the scenario.)

I think we need to tailor their education to their needs. I like the idea of identifying the skills needed for advancement in occupations, whether it's logical thinking skills, mathematical aptitude, etc. and then providing beginning coursework that has practical applications of material. If able to do that, further coursework could introduce theoretical applications, along with workshops and clinics to try out the skills. This approach would bridge the gap for those who have worked for ten, twenty odd years and haven't been in a classroom and it would provide immediate feedback as to whether they could actually do the job at the next rung in their career. Which, to them, is the point.

Can this be done in a college setting? Should it be? I know that there are already colleges with more of a technical bent (like Penn College of Penn State). On the other hand, there are many models from continuing education programs to draw from in terms of tailoring education to a career goal. Some possibilities including developing programs in conjunction with colleges' lifelong learning programs- or even developing centers of studies. (The legal field does that, although the one I'm familiar with is separate and apart from any law school.)

I know that many of the folks who are "sent back" to college only wind up failing and feeling as if they "should have" gone when they were younger. They don't get the promotion or job, society loses out on seasoned, experienced workers - and the tuition is being paid for coursework not tailored to their needs.

velvet goldmine

This is interesting to me, because I just completed a freelance assignment about the different kinds of higher education options there are, much more than when I graduated and only the burn-outs went to vocational school, and only the bimbos went to community college.

I came across more than one person for the article who believed, from a future earnings potential, that it's far better for anyone with doubts about a four-year college to start with an Associate, given the high risk of dropping out.

And it's really amazing how "vocational school" has mushroomed into a million kinds of "career training" programs. Those and online degrees are a great way of kind of being the elitist systme at its own game.

Wendy

I'm about to leave the computer for a week (vacation yay!) and I get sent to this post via Susie Madrak. But I will make a quick defense of college then try to come back to it in my blog when I get back next week.

I don't necessarily think these students are not ready for or don't belong in college. I think the way the pseudonymous professor teaches his/her English classes, to put it bluntly, sucks. I think s/he is caught in an older model of what education should be. I teach English to just as many busy/career-minded students as s/he does, but I teach my classes so very differently.

What we do in colleges - liberal arts colleges, research universities, community colleges, technical colleges - can be very useful for students. It can prepare them for the workplace, and it can prepare them to be global citizens. It can make them more willing to leave their small homogenous communities and less reactive to the limited set of stimuli they surround themselves with. I just think we teachers have to be willing to recognize that the way we were educated is not necessarily the best way.

Apostate

Will comment on your commentary later, perhaps on my blog, but reading Prof X's opinion -- is s/he actually saying college is supposed to be hard? American college education in the liberal arts is a fucking joke. I knew all that shit when I was in middle school -- without even putting in an appearance in my shitty school.

Rana

I'm of two minds on this. On the one hand, I have had, and likely will continue to have, students for whom a college degree is an essentially useless credential - the bright daughter of dairy farmers who planned to go into the family business, who was regularly impatient with the shallow immaturity of her peers, the bored young man who lit up with enthusiasm when he talked about the horses he was training and the summer mentorship program he was going to attend in equine management, the surfer dude who wanted to go into the Peace Corps after graduation, the young woman who had planned out a career as agricultural saleswoman from the first day she arrived...

None of these people NEEDED to go to college to obtain the skills necessary to be happy and successful in their chosen fields.

And yet... I think that their more conventional peers benefited from their real world experiences and expectations, and I think that they benefited from their exposure to a level of writing and thinking that would be beneficial to them, if only in terms of personal satisfaction, of stretching their minds with ideas they might not otherwise encounter.

I think part of the problem is that college is really trying to accomplish three tasks, and they are tasks that are somewhat at odds with one another.

First, the college degree is a sign that the person holding it has been properly socialized as a productive member of working society - they can be counted on to show up on time, dress neatly, not complain about authority too much, how to positively manipulate those in authority to one's advantage, and to have learned how to work independently and in groups, and how to network with peers.

Second, college serves as a training ground in certain practical skills - using a computer, writing clearly, knowing how to look things up - and useful conceptual skills - how to critique or construct an argument, how to navigate between competing sources of information, how to learn about subjects that are new - etc.

Third, college is a place where you are taught about fields of knowledge - history, language, mathematics, science, theology, etc. - and, if you continue, the particular professional cultures that go along with those fields.

All of these are in tension with each other, and not all of them are useful or necessary for all people, and many (MANY!) people get their wires crossed when the expectations are different (see, "Is this going to be on the test?" "This class has nothing to do with the real world," "These kids are lazy and don't know how to work independently," "This lecture is so boring" "Why aren't my students as excited about this as I am?" etc.)

I think, too, that colleges are caught between the general public's expectation that they will function as skills providers (without that working-class loser taint of technical skills (which is completely undeserved in many cases)), and the older function of the academy, which is to add to human knowledge and pass it down to the next generation.

The increasing failure of high schools to provide the skills training earlier generations had only adds to the demands on colleges to be High School 2.0.

Apostate

The increasing failure of high schools to provide the skills training earlier generations had only adds to the demands on colleges to be High School 2.0.

Seconded.

I completely agree that a liberal arts college education is useless/waste of time except as a necessary credential to get certain types of jobs. College doesn't actually teach you anything you wouldn't know if you habitually read a lot and learned grammar and spelling in the 6th grade.


calliopejane

The increasing failure of high schools to provide the skills training earlier generations had only adds to the demands on colleges to be High School 2.0.
This varies so widely depending on the economic status of one's high school. I've been a professor at a couple of private universities which also had some sort of "continuing education" college for the community at large. The regular 4-year undergrads had to post fairly high grades and test scores, compete for entry, and come up with very high full-time tuition, so they tended to be economically advantaged students who had involved parents and went to top-rate high schools. The CE students, on the other hand, just had to come up with tuition for a single class at a time, and it may have been covered by and employer or a grant; these are basically the students like Prof X is teaching. And at two different schools, I found myself teaching a "cross-listed" evening class, in which regular undergrad day-students were mixed with the CE students. It was an absolute nightmare for me, the gap in skill levels was so huge. If I taught to the level of the CE students, the regular day students would be bored to tears and have to do very minimal work to get an A. If I tested and graded according to what I felt a college student should be able to do, nearly all the CE students would fail. These two populations of people were so differentially prepared for a college classroom, and ironically it was the younger ones who were better suited for it since they had been the most advantaged in the past.

I would also like to add that not only would some people be happier with trade-type jobs, they would probably find it much easier to land such a job than a white-collar one. There is a massive glut of college graduates in this country and an undergrad degree hardly gets you anything anymore. I know so many people with B.A.s who tend bar or wait tables or sell t-shirts while hoping to get something better in their field, toying with the idea of going back for post-graduate education so they'll have something to put them ahead of the pack. At the same time there is a SHORTAGE in many skilled trades. In my harbor town, there is a real shortage of skilled shipyard workers, companies import a lot of them from India and other countries because they can't find the qualified labor here at home.

KEn

Most students attend college for only two reasons:
1) to get a degree, doesn't matter in what, and
2) to find a mate.

Colleges do a good job of providing both. The admissions process ensures that any student who is accepted to the university, with minimal work and assuming they find a major that suits them, will be able to graduate.

It also ensures that young people of the same socio-economic status meet while drunk.

I'm a college instructor in engineering and I'd like to think that I am helping the students learn useful information and skills. Many of my students are going on to get advanced degrees (in medicine or business) so I guess engineering is not enticing enough (which might be a whole other subject).

FF

College may not even be a good place for people with both the temperament and the capacity.

In a global business environment, the easiest jobs to outsource are intellectual ones: design, research, programming, etc. If it can be done with a computer and an internet connection, all you have to be able to do is speak & write in the right language.

The only jobs that are safe in a global economy are those that require a physical presence (e.g., the design for a new building can be done overseas, with maybe an occasional on-site visit, but the actual building must be constructed by people living, at least temporarily, where the building exists), most of which, unfortunately, don't pay that much - but something is better than nothing.

Personally, I look forward to the day when American economists of the Chicago school, to say nothing of the endless stream of gossipy pundits on the air or in print, find that their jobs have been outsourced to England and India.

Linkmeister

FF, you write: "the actual building must be constructed by people living, at least temporarily, where the building exists), most of which, unfortunately, don't pay that much"

Last office job I had for a construction firm included payroll data accumulation. Carpenters were making upwards of $35/hour. Plumbers about the same.

It depends.

Arundel

I know Camille Paglia is a hot button that many hate, but I always remember her depiction of American high schools as stultifying, outmoded holding pens that inhibit young male energy, trying to make everyone the same mold of paper-pusher. She lamented the denigration of vocational arts, or the artisanal tradition, and the inherent dignity of manual labor suited to a man's talents and interests, as well as his ability to support a family from these useful skills.

What we call "blue-collar" labor is shockingly disrespected in this culture, yet essential to society: carpenters, electricians, construction workers, dozens of other callings. Damn right college is not for everyone, and though pundits condescend to concepts like "white working-class voters" with sniffy amused disdain, you'll be damned sure when their BMW breaks down, these are the scorned ignoramuses who'll know what to do.

I love how the constant Republican response to the vicious, profit-squeezing evisceration of the working class and unions is "re-training". So a laid-off auto worker can become a telemarketer in a cubicle, until his job is outsourced to India.

College is indeed not for everyone: the idea that everyone ought to aspire to be a paper-pushing number cruncher is a deluded relic of the 1950's, strangely unexamined in the culture, how outmoded our high schools are, leading to college, which once meant something but today is the bare minimum.

I wonder who decided that good honest working-class labor was laughably to be disrespected, the sign of low intelligence and coarseness, ripe for corporate fucking-over and union-busting, and snide commentary by pundits. But weirdly, houses still need to be built, cars need to be repaired, and the pampered pundits wonder about immigration and why "real Americans" don't step up when their summer house's roof needs repair, or lettuce needs picking.

It's fascinating: denigrate workers, advocate policies to eliminate their jobs, then complain when illegal immigrants step in to do the needed dirty work.

The evisceration of the working class in America is a tragic story that needs to be told. And fuck Thomas Friedman and his globalization free-trade fancies- for people not suited for college, there used to be dignified options of honest work. Expecting people with useful manual/physical skills to become corporate cubicle workers is not very realistic.

Sabutai

Reading the blog Rate Your Students, it's clear Professor X isn't alone in his thinking. While there's a lot of prideful and needless nastiness on the website, there are a lot of stories that clearly demonstrate that people are going to college who aren't ready -- and may never be.

On the other hand, I'd like to see something that compares lifetime earnings of a liberal arts major and a vocational major, taking into account education debt. For much of the career, I'd wager that the pay rate is about the same, while the liberal arts major often has a much larger debt.

College isn't the solution for everything. Heck, I've yet to run into a teacher who believes that they've learned a lot in college about teaching. One of the main things they learn on the job is to ignore some 80% of what they were taught in college. You could probably boil down the useful work done in teacher preparation to 1 1/2 years, plus student teaching.

FF

Arundel,
You are right about the "shocking disrespect" for manual labor.

As a network manager, I once had the opportunity to work with an electrician who wsa also responsible for doing all the cabling I needed. In his field, he was as smart, or smarter, than I.

The people currently doing the landscaping for the apartment building I live in have a knowledge of plants and an eye for what will look good that I completely lack.

Then there are the craftspeople who can build things when I can barely hammer in a nail.

The problem with so-called "elites" is that they value the trappings of education (degrees) rather than the performance. You can pass the Bar and still be a lousy lawyer; and be a tree-trimmer and do it all wrong.

Since this has been going on for thousands of years, I suppose there's no fix, but I wish we were able to value how a person does a job or, even better, to value those who are working to the limits of their ability in whatever work they do.

ltgesq

I was an English major at a pretty good small liberal arts college. English was a difficult and demanding degree, requiring dozens of hours of reading each week. Come graduation time, I discovered that I was competing in the job arena with the two joke majors at my school: corporate communications, and journalism. All that mattered was class rank.

I spent the next 10 years working outside doing physical labor, and spent the last seven of those years as a union journeyman carpenter. I learned several valuable facts during those years. First, there was no one over the age of 48 on the jobs I worked; second, my body wasn't going to last 46 years to retirement; third, it was more important to drink with, or be related to the boss than do quality work.

Now I am a criminal lawyer. My education gave me insight to the human condition, and my work gave me insight into humans. As a result, I have one of the best trial records in the state I live in.

Erin

I think so many people find themselves in college when they don't need to be because our current high school system considers university attendance to be its primary purpose. I teach high school and have taught on the middle school level, and it was a stated element of the school culture to push college attendance on every student. While I understand the desire to make college appear to be an attainable option for kids with non-college-educated, minority, poor, or disadvantaged families, I think this attitude makes students for whom college attendance truly is not an option or who don't want to go--for whatever reason--feel somehow less than their college-bound counterparts.

The ultimate effect is that, in insisting all students recieve a traditional K-12 education whose main purpose is university attendance, many, many students who don't have the skills or interest to succeed in algebra or British Literature are still forced to put in "seat time" to get a diploma that is so watered-down as to be practically meaningless. We should allow students to begin vocational training (and even certification!) in their interest areas after about 9th or 10th grade so that they will not only be able to learn things they enjoy and find relevant, but that will ensure they have the skills to be productive members of society by the time they graduate. An added advantage to differentiating high school education is that classes such as algebra and British Literature are populated with students who DO find relevance and meaning in class content, which will allow the teachers to cover more material at greater depth, and with fewer interruptions caused by student misbehavior.

I think that many students graduate high school and have to attend college because their high school diploma didn't really teach them much they could go out and use in a job right away--because who DOES use British Literature in a career that doesn't require a college degree?

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