Expert Opinion: College expectations

Expert Opinion has a thoughtful analysis of modern day university students:

They pay money, they want the tools and certification to get jobs, and they resent being subjected to “irrelevant crap”. I don’t know how to respond to this. Certainly, I feel that this is not the best mode of operation for a university. I’ve stated before that I don’t view students as ordinary customers of universities, both because universities have other customers (employers, governments, society as a whole) and because the “product” that we deliver is rather unique in that its true value is likely not to be seen by students or families until many years after graduation. So, are we failing in our jobs by not getting students to the point where they understand the idea of education as more than training? Should we change our core values? Or should we develop a bifurcated higher education system, either within existing universities or by ceding part of higher education to the universities of phoenixes?

What are you going to cede to the University of Phoenix or the Trump University? What exactly?

To realize the dream of a university without job training, it seems to me you have to take away from universities medical schools (that’s training), engineering schools (training again), architecture schools, nursing schools, business schools, communication schools, library science schools, software engineering schools, IT courses, environment sciences, forestry, meteorology…

Ok, then you are left with Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry, History, Philosophy. Even Computer Science, once you’ve taken out all the IT and software engineering will only remain as a shadow of its current self.

Oh! Wait. Many students take Physics or Mathematics so that they can teach the field. So you’ll have to create a Teacher schools covering these topics and turn down students who want to train as teachers.

I’m not done: you’d have to ensure that nobody can take a Ph.D. has a form of training in order to become a professor.

Now, after taking out pretty much everything, you are left with the pure minded students. Those students who go to college just to learn and growth. How many will you have? Not very many at all. Maybe 9 out of 10 faculty member will have to be let go; maybe tuitions will go up tremendously.

So, you’ll be educating a very small elite while being cautious not to “train” them too much. Better make sure these students come from wealthy family because with no marketable skill, it is very hard to find a job these days.

Can someone remind me why we went there in the first place and what problem we solved?

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

2 thoughts on “Expert Opinion: College expectations”

  1. “To realize the dream of a university without job training…”

    Clearly, training is a subset of what happens at a university, but it is a proper subset. In my post, I didn’t intend to mean that we remove training-oriented instruction from universities, merely that we may want to stop chasing enrollment from students who only want training. We can do this by explicitly guiding them to these other institutions; even forming “strategic partnerships” (which must be better than ordinary partnerships) with them.

    The alternative is to make it an explicit goal that all our graduates have an understanding of how the breadth of their education is more than the sum of its parts. When I was and undergrad, this wasn’t necessary, as pretty much all students were hungry to learn (and thirsty for beer). Even so, for engineering students, “arts and crafts” electives were something to get through as quick as possible. We would have benefitted from a carefully crafted, thoughtful common humanities core. I think this is even more applicable today, when not all entering students value learning in and of itself. Perhaps the real elitism is assuming that everyone can afford the luxury of learning for learning’s sake.

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