Perspectives: Undergraduate Education

Although I’ve written about this multiple times, I’ve been doing some heavy thinking lately. I figured I might as well get some of my thoughts on paper, so to speak.

With bleak job prospects for recent grads, spending fortunes on an undergraduate education seems less like a way out and more like a way to get into some serious debt. What are undergraduate programs doing to prepare their students for the “real world”? Many seem to just be pushing their students towards a higher degree because a bachelor’s degree simply doesn’t hold much stock in today’s world. For my personal program, I almost feel that the program should be separated from undergraduate & graduate education altogether and considered its own professional program. While general education courses are supposedly good tools to produce “well-rounded” individuals, I personally feel that they are a complete waste of time. Since most students take the same general education courses, professors have to downgrade information to the very basics. Nearly every general education course I’ve taken was a dumbed-down version of my high school (even middle school!) courses. Perhaps I came from a high school where more was expected of students. Regardless, pointless classes that might have the potential to give students a wealth of knowledge but fall far short of that goal are simply a waste of time and money. I honestly feel that half of my  undergraduate career was spent “learning” useless “skills” that really won’t help me in my professional life or as an enlightened individual. I’m not devaluing a well-rounded education; that education should simply fulfill what it was set out to do. Courses emphasizing critical thinking, discussion, and scientific processes certainly have their merits. But when a basic biology course gets downgraded to the content of a seventh grade classroom, is there a point?

Skills. We’re supposed to come out of college with not only a piece of paper declaring our competence in a particular discipline, but also a set of skills that can be generalized throughout our personal and professional lives. From my experience at a state university, these skills are few and far between when it comes to non-major related courses. And while career resources are located on campus, they are not integrated with the basic curricula. Perhaps these higher-order skills (e.g., critical thinking) should be combined with something more practical, such as interview skills. Maybe universities, instead of requiring “good citizen” courses, should focus on imparting valuable information that will give their students an edge on the job market. Learn how to effectively write a resumé, how to make professional connections, and how to look good for a job interview. Professional Skills could be its own course. Of course, this, like gen eds, has the potential to fail in the hands of incompetent instructors.

I don’t have any statistics here, but it seems that many jobs are found through connections and networking. Family members, friends, student organizations, and other groups all connect students with job opportunities. Unfortunately, the typical “good student” immersed in academia doesn’t always have these connections to the real world. Granted, some of these students will want to remain in academia, where they feel comfortable. But others have career goals beyond academia, but have few tools to reach out. Social skills and networking are skills that can be taught as much as any other skill. People who have connections get jobs. It’s as simple as that. But when you don’t have connections, what are your options?


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