Sunday, April 5, 2009

Hire Education

Confession time. First: I have a secret crush on Reba Mcentire. Ever since I saw her use an elephant gun to blow holes in a giant worm in the movie Tremors I have always gotten a little blush at the mere mention of her name. Ladies, in case you are wondering, the true way to mans heart is through the barrel of his gun.

Second: I think College education, as it is done today, is a scam.

This does not mean that I am advocating that current students should quit school and waste away their lives playing video games in mom's basement. I am simply stating that the college education we our receiving today is not worth the money we are putting into it and it needs to change.

Over the last fifty years, the price of college education has increased at almost double the cost of inflation. The average college graduate now finishes school with $20,000 in student loans, a 58% increase since 1993. Despite- or as I would argue, because of- government student aid, a college degree has never cost more.

Why do we go to college in the first place? Forget all the lofty ideas of broadening your horizons, developing your mind and diversifying your experiences. We go to college for one reason and one reason only: to get a job.

Unfortunately, modern halls of scholastic achievement have forgotten their role in preparing the modern workforce. Perhaps it is because educators, protected by the umbrella of tenure, have forgotten the need to compete. Regardless of the reasons, colleges fail to provide their students with the competitive advantage they think they are buying when they fork over $20,000 a semester for a degree. In the current marketplace, landing what we perceive as a good job without a college degree is virtually impossible. However, so many people are going to college that the value of a degree seems little more than the paper it is printed on. It is sad to say that a college degree has never been worth more and worth less than it is today.

The fundamental flaw in college lies with the curriculum. We still continue to utilize an outdated model of education that requires just as many general education classes as major specific classes. Thus our students are spending upwards of 50% of their money and 50% of their time on courses that have nothing to do with their major and, ultimately, their future career.

I knew going into college that I was never going to be a doctor, scientist, historian or art critic. Yet how many hours did I waste away learning the difference between the nucleus and the mitochondria, metamorphic rocks and igneous rocks, baroque and neo-classic architecture. While this may help me sound smarter at a cocktail party, it does not help me with my job.

This is not to say I advocate obliterating general education courses as a whole, but the hour requirements should be trimmed and their focus should be narrowed to practical skills and knowledge that we all need to function in modern society.

In practice this means we need courses that focus more on our Constitution and form of government so each student knows their role in our democratic process. Our English courses should not waste so much time on literature and put more emphasis on technical writing. The writing skills of our students have never been as bad as they are today, yet our colleges continue to waste valuable teaching time on The Odyssey and The Iliad, when what are students really need are courses on verbs, adverbs, commas and semicolons.

Additionally, our schools need to provide students with at least one business writing course that teaches them the basics of memo and resume writing. The key to getting and maintaining any job is your business writing abilities. No matter your degree or where you went to school, if your resume is not professional and polished, you might as well have a degree in underwater basket weaving from the University of the Interwebs.

I do all of the hiring for my office and I can tell you that less than 5% of the resumes that come across my desk could even be classified as "good." Less than 2 out of 100 are excellent. I would say a full 50% are embarrassingly awful. These contain everything from obvious formatting errors to grammatical mistakes a kindergartener could catch. Despite the fact that every person in HR will tell you this same thing, most schools do nothing about it.

Our Universities also need to provide their students with coursework in basic personal finance. Much of our current economic woes can be traced back to the fact that the majority of Americans, including college graduates, do not understand the magnifying power of compound interest. If the housing market has proved anything it is that we, as a society, are financially illiterate. Our Universities must do more to provide the financial information that our media and our K-12 education is not.

Part of reforming the education process means reforming our views on blue-collar work as well. As a society, we tend to consider blue-collar work as something of less value. However, many blue-collar jobs, such as a plumber, carpenter or a machinist, can provide an excellent quality of life for those who pursue them. Less than half of those who enter college will graduate. How many of these college drop outs would have been better off if we had pointed them to blue-collar vocational schools in the first place. Unfortunately, too many modern parents consider themselves a failure if their children become anything less than a lawyer or a doctor. This is a fundamental paradigm shift that we need to accept. We need blue-collar workers and we should be proud of anyone who pursues technical knowledge in a blue-collar skill or trade.

It is truly ironic that blue-collar vocational schools could teach modern universities a thing or two about education. Vocational schools don't waste any time on fringe knowledge. They provide hands on learning and provide the skill set their students need to succeed, nothing more and nothing less, all in about two years. Why do our Journalists need four years of education? Considering what passes as objective news these days, all it really takes to be a successful journalist is a lifetime membership in the Democratic Party and a thorough understanding of the Communist Manifesto. In reality, everything you need to know to be a successful journalist could easily be taught in a one-year vocational school and a one-year internship. This same methodology could be applied to a whole host of professions that now require four years of schooling despite only needing one year to learn the basic skills of the profession.

Considering a University's primary purpose is to make people employable, it is down right criminal that schools allow their students to graduate in anything that does not have obvious employment opportunities. Any school that charges as much for a degree in Feminist Studies or Philosophy that it charges for Business or Computer Science should be sued for fraud. If every time you tell people what you are majoring in and they ask "oh, that's nice, what do you plan on doing with that," you can consider yourself robbed.

My feelings towards college as a whole may come as a surprise to many of you, considering I have a Bachelors in Public Relations and a Master of Public Administration. However, I was smart enough to choose to go to Brigham Young University, a school that emphasizes the practical while at the same time being incredibly affordable. My graduate school (The Marriott School) is in the top twenty nationally (according to Forbes) yet it has a tuition about 1/10 of what you would pay elsewhere. In fact, the total student debt I racked up for my wife's degree and my two degrees is less than what most students pay for one year of undergrad. Simply put, my education is worth what I spent for it. It has provided me with a great job while helping me avoid crippling student loans.

Unfortunately, people in my same station in life will become increasingly rare as the cost of a college education continues to increase at the same rate the quality of college education decreases.

Ultimately, when considering the value of college education, we need to remember that it was not a college stiff with a degree in Latin American studies who saved us from the alien earth-worm invasion. It was an uneducated red-head with an elephant gun.


Ty said...

Great post, sir. It's a bit sad what passes for education these days. On all fronts.

danu said...

You're right.
I agree with you.

Trait said...

I agree with you to a point. We do need to do better at teaching the basics. However, I wouldn't agree with your assessment that we should only teach things that are "useful" in society. If the ultimate goal of a university education is a learned well-rounded individual, then we must still focus on subjects that may not be "practical." I'm planning to blog on education in the near future, so I'll explore that in a little more detail when I finally get time to put all the pieces together.

Rachel said...

Every person I encountered in/after college: "So what's your major?"
Me: "Double major. History and Theater"
Everyone: "oh, that's nice, what do you plan on doing with that? (uh oh! not that question!!!)
Me: "Oh, I plan on using my overpriced, useless, liberal arts college education to get into law school, so that I can further my overpriced education and become a lawyer."

My point being: I have... a lot more than 20K in student loans.. and i went to a liberal arts school, and at the time resented having to take physics and astronomy and statistics, for some people, the overpriced well-rounded education IS what is best. (hopefully once the economy gets a little better, i'll have a better argument that i am one of those people...)

And my 'modern parents' feel quite successful that they raised a lawyer and a rocket scientist.... but i'd like to believe as long as we were doing things that made us happy, they wouldn't consider themselves failures.