Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Changes in education

Jennifer Fulwiler writes about changes in the education scene and the possibility of the next generation or so forgoing college altogether.  There is so much to talk about but I'll confine myself to three points that may be of interest.

The first is that in my own profession (software development) there is definitely an emerging trend among my generation of developers to start looking far more at practical experience in lieu of a college degree.  At one place I worked where I was involved in hiring decisions there was definitely a generation gap on this view.  The older generation held that a college degree was mandatory.  Those of my generation were not impressed with the education we received vs. work experience.  From my point of view, when I was interviewing I would look for experience that could be substituted for a college degree.  I expect this trend to increase, rather than decrease.

The second is that despite my opposing political views and rather sour attitude regarding some actions of violence, I can't help but feel a twinge of sympathy for some of the students in the Occupy movement.  However you feel about them, I think some have a point of sorts.  Society has told them since Day 1 of comprehension that if they stay in school, get high grades, go to college, etc a job would be waiting for them.  The problem was that society didn't hold up its end of the bargain.  Now they are stuck with degree and mountains of student debt with no way to pay them off.  This I also expect to increase.

Finally one of the real issues with colleges is that they simply do not deliver on their promises.  While the grades may be steady or inflated to me is immaterial.  Conceptually, the sciences are not being taught.  One of the biggest complaints I've read from hiring companies is that the concepts that supposedly are supposed to be taught in college simply are not being imparted.  I think that this has a lot to do with calculators and technology in general.  From my own observations students these days punch in numbers into a formula, and write what the calculator tells them is the answer.  The problem:  The numbers don't MEAN ANYTHING to them.  It's just input and output.  There is no connection between the numbers and what they represent in the real world.

For the record this last point is relevant to me because while I got As in Engineering Physics (first year) I never really grasped fundamental concepts and until the concepts of magnetism and electricity were taught I struggled quite a bit.  But I knew how to take tests and had a knack for discerning what the professor was going to test us on (which is not all that secret, just pay attention to the lecture.  Yet you'd be surprised how many people don't do this).

In any event I think the conclusion is right.  Big shakeups are coming in the education sphere.  It will be very interesting to see what the future holds.


JC said...

Rebecca and I have had many conversations about this. We're more-or-less leaning toward trying to get our (future) children through vocational school for a year or two (or beyond) so that they are skilled as electricians or massueses or beer-brewers (etc), then try to *help* send them to a good Catholic university (Steubenville, Wyoming Catholic, CUA, Bellmont Abbey, etc) or Great Books program (St John's College) if they want the education. You know as well as I do about the value of a degree (even an advanced degree) from a university as far as getting a good career is concerned; especially if after completing the advanced degree, you decide that you want to do something else.

CatholicGuy said...

Indeed, your ideas are but the first of the major shift coming. The glut of degrees is already at a supersaturation point. I think of what my wife says about Korea, where an undergrad degree is like a GED here. Now everyone is going for advanced degrees in numbers that dwarf what we have here.

Anonymous said...

I think this mindset has some severe limitations. Doctors and nurses need formal training which goes beyond "on the job experience". A very large amount of the bookwork from undergrad that I thought would not be useful in practical medicine has proven to be essential. I would not feel comfortable working with nurses, techs or PAs who did not understand why sterilization protocols must be followed, and had merely received "badges" for watching hand washing videos online.

This goes beyond clinical fields. My father in law, a mechanical engineer, will not hire any engineers with less training than a masters degree because of the immense amount of technical knowledge required to run their plant. He says that it is too expensive to fix problems created by people who don't know what they are doing, and that masters programs prepare their workers well. This was the argument he used to push all of his children into higher education.

Maybe everyone doesn't need to go to college, but anyone who wants a job which is technical, competitive, or clinical should strongly consider going.


CatholicGuy said...

I do not see your views and mine to be mutually exclusive. I do dispute that "technical" jobs require advanced degrees. Although it depends on how one defines technical.

What I predict will end is the erroneous notion that a college degree is a requirement for basic employment. There definitely is a education bubble, and the "value" of education vs. the actual results is quite a large gap.

Anonymous said...

I agree that a college education is not a requirement for employment, but the question is what kind of employment you want. If you want your children to be the engineers who run their plant they need advanced education. If you are happy with them being technicians who work for the engineer (and there is nothing wrong with that) then they might be fine just getting associates degrees. However, they still would benefit from the basic education an associates degree offers.

As Christians we all believe that everything positive we (or our children) have are gifts from God, including talents and intelligence. What you do with those gifts is your gift back to God. Nurturing those gifts through education has inherent benefit.

I do agree that too many colleges encourage students to follow career paths that suffer from underemployment. More students should be encouraged to pursue science and engineering careers, and fewer should be encouraged to pursue the liberal arts. This is a problem that needs correcting, but discouraging higher education in totality is an over-reaction and will lead to a less competitive workforce.


CatholicGuy said...

Overall I do not see where you think I am discouraging college education in general. My point is simply that the sea change in education is already coming, and promoting alternate education in lieu of the fact that colleges are becoming so expensive that alternate education avenues will increase in size and acceptability.

"More students should be encouraged to pursue science and engineering careers, and fewer should be encouraged to pursue the liberal arts."

I agree that too many colleges encourage degrees that do not offer employment given that is why the vast majority of people go to college. I disagree that the liberal arts should be discouraged in principle.

However, the ridiculousness that passes for a liberal arts education needs to be reform. But this is a topic for a different post. Suffice it to say I find the wretched state of the liberal arts a tragedy.