Do you think colleges should tailor programs to actual job applicability?

… or at least advise starry eyed freshmen that they are not being prepared for the world at large, but the narrow slice that is academe.

Yes and no.

Colleges should certainly be frank about what kinds of jobs their programs qualify students to do. I think they should work harder to place students in part-time work in the field. You are right that many freshmen don’t understand the reality of work and what it will take to pay back all of those student loans.

But college is not trade school. If you want to be a dental assistant or whatever, there are programs for that.

And ultimately, any college degree is going to teach things that are useful on the job. Any liberal arts major is going to get a good grounding in critical thinking, text analysis and writing. These skills are essential to most jobs.

Hell, yes.

Except that I recognize that a vast majority of students don’t even know what types of jobs exist in most fields, let alone what interests them or what they actually want to do, so tailoring programs to actual jobs is pretty much impossible.

Having done one degree, worked for a few years, and now working on a second degree in something else entirely, I find myself often wishing that the school could be a bit more flexible about some of the introductory courses, and I get annoyed at all the academia-for-life profs and TAs saying “this is how it is in industry” when I have first hand knowledge that what they are saying isn’t even remotely how the industry does anything at all. I have flat out advised classmates to take time off school and go work, because they had no idea what they wanted and just figured they’d “do a master’s degree if I don’t know what I want to do”. At least one has flat out told me that he’s in this program because his parents expect him to be smart and accomplish something, not because he’s even remotely interested in the program. Students definitely don’t know what they are getting into, what their degree can and cannot lead them to in terms of careers, and I think that more focus on that could be a good thing. I don’t really know how to implement it though, but I definitely feel there is something wrong with the way people are learning and being guided towards careers.

No. The purpose of college is to develop skills outside of what might be needed to get a job: analytical ability, the ability to express your ideas, etc. These are much more useful than skills for a particular career, especially since the requirements change over time.

If I had gone in for computer science when I was in college, I would have been an expert in Fortran and maybe Cobol.

There are no shortage of college-level programs that are designed to prepare students for specific careers. There’s also a role for a more general education, and we should not phase that out in favor of more vocational training. I very strongly agree, however, that we do need to do more to educate students about the reality of the job market.

I can’t speak with any real authority about how it’s done in the sciences, or engineering, or law, but in the Humanities there is often no such distinction.

I teach college-level history. I’m well aware that the vast majority of my students are not interested in becoming professional historians. Most of them aren’t even history majors, and of the ones that are, most of them still don’t want to be history teachers or professors.

But none of this really affects how i teach, because the skills required by professional historians are the same skills that i think non-historians should get out of my classes anyway. For me, apart from the specific subject matter itself, the main things i’m trying to teach are close reading, analysis, argument, and written and oral communication skills. If students can get better at those things in my classes, then i think it will serve them in whatever job they happen to take, whether it involves history or not.

Also, while it might sound corny, i firmly believe that an understanding of history gives students some of the tools they need to be better-informed citizens. It won’t make them vote in any particular way, nor will it make them all agree about what is best, but at least it might help them to think more closely about some of the issues they will face as voters, as taxpayers, as parents, as workers, and as citizens.

Bad example. Even an undergraduate computer science degree covers significantly more than programming, and most of that material is nowhere near as ephemeral.

No. College trains you to be versatile. Job requirements change and transferable knowledge and skills are the most useful over time. Trade-based majors are available for those who want them. Career research shows that many people change careers multiple times over their working life. I’m certainly not doing what I did when I graduated.

Especially a job serving coffee! ZING!!:smiley:

No, but colleges should be honest about the fact that they are not trade schools and the type of education they provide is not the best choice for someone whose primary goal is job training. (I also think they should have more stringent admissions standards, and should not admit students who do not show evidence of genuine intellectual curiosity about at least one subject in their essays and interviews … but if I go on like this, I’ll argue myself out of a job, so I’ll stop there.)

Two of my classes went into that in depth. Business/technical Communications, and College Success and Portfolio writing. In the second one, one assignment that was a big part of the grade was a research paper on the job we wanted, what education, and experience it’d take to get there, what skills are needed, and how big the job market was for it. Everything had to be cited.

It was very enlightening.

Hey man, morning caffeine is sacred. Blessed be those who deliver it.

Yeah, this sounds like bullshit to me.

How exactly does college train you to be versatile? Because you have to pick different classes each semester?

If you let it, college gives you exposure to a wide variety of topics and subject matter. It’s suposed to challenge the way you think about the world and yourself. But it is also supposed to prepare you to contribute to that world when you graduate. Do most students think about that? Probably not. All they think of is what high paying job they think they will get after graduation. And then when they become disappointed because they can’t find that high paying job they go off to law school.

Well, unless you go to engineering or business school.

So what is the point of college? Is it to prepare students for the real world? Or is it to educate students above their ability and turn them into ivory tower intellectuals with opinions on everything but no actual experience with or responsibility for any of those things? Just the way people seem to be disparaging “trades” or “vocational” education seems to indicate that they think the whole purpose of college is to join some useless intellectual class of society.


I’m an engineer. Very little of what I learned in school is directly applicable to my job. Most of my specific skills were honed while on the job.

I wish I had a more rounded education. (I never even had to take a history course in college.) I also wish my engineering classes focused more on the fundamentals (physics, electromagnetics, analog circuit theory, etc.) than the high-tech stuff (digital, programming, signal processing, etc.).

Ideally, here is what I would like to see. Regardless of your major,

30% of the credit hours for general studies (history, economics, humanities, etc.).

50% of the credit hours for studying the *fundamentals *pertinent to your major. If you are an engineering major, for example, 50% of the credit hours should be in physics, mathematics, chemistry, mechanics, materials, etc. If you are an economics major, 50% of the credit hours should be in mathematics, logic, English, finance, etc.

20% of the credit hours for studying areas only specific to your major.

Former college prof: Of course not. But in actuality it really does.

I had to explain to students over and over; In college you are assigned things to do. You are not allowed to copy other people’s work. You have to do it on time, no extensions “just because”. The quality of your work will be judged.

You cannot believe how many times people objected to all of these. After all, none of that would be expected in real life, right?

Academics is not an ivory tower. It is exactly the real world. This “ivory tower” nonsense is pure propaganda. All the same principles apply. If you cannot do well at school, you’re going to have trouble in business.

I was in Computer Science, so there was a lot of noise about teaching what the companies were looking for. (For an absurdly long time there was an idiotic claim that Cobol was the biggest thing in the universe. Hah. So we were teaching OOP and guess what happened eventually?) We would explain to students: Our job is not get you a job next year. Our job is to make sure you have a job 30 years from now. You are here to learn how to learn.

I repeated a thousand times: it’s not about facts and formulas. I am not your spoon feeder. It’s about how you can teach yourself to learn new stuff in the future.

Students rarely know what they will need 30 years from now.

I think colleges should do more of this sort of stuff, where they encourage/require students to take more responsibility for professional goals and preparation. Even if it’s having the student to admit that they are not interested in job preparation right now, they want to just focus on learning, and they’re okay with that. I definitely don’t think that you have to restructure all the core coursework for this, it should be something that’s done alongside the degree. I’ve met plenty of liberal arts majors who totally had their shit together, and did internships and activities outside of classes that built up a great resume. Once they graduated they hit the ground running. I’ve met kids in computer science programs who didn’t do any of this.

I went to a very good engineering program with a very preprofessional mindset among the students. Most kids went right into a job after graduation, grad school or time off was the exception. So career preparation was just part of the culture there. Everyone had a resume and did internships, we had an awesome job placement office, etc. I watched what my peers did, went to the club meetings and job fairs, and I got internships and a job and had a job by the time I left. I actually never directly used my engineering degree, I decided I wanted to do software/IT stuff and so moved sideways a little. But the career preparation I got in college was absolutely invaluable, it gave me the confidence and know-how to put myself out there. I was a pretty shy kid, my dad said I should just go to grad school, and I think just being in that environment for 4 years is what gave me the confidence and know-how to get started on a career.

Well, first off, I’d question your distinction between college and “the real world.” College is part of the real world. Reading and writing and thinking and experimenting are as real as any other human endeavor, and a student who has dedicated four years to these pursuits does have experience doing something valuable and important.

As for educating students “above their ability” – what does that even mean? By definition, it’s not possible to educate students above their ability, although in a perfect world we’d educate them to the best of their ability. I’m also a bit confused by your reference to turning students into “ivory tower intellectuals with opinions on everything,” because the first thing students should learn in any good college class is not to toss off opinions without support. Part of the point of a college education is to think critically about everything you think you know, and to learn how to reject your most cherished beliefs if it turns out that the evidence doesn’t support them. This is a tall order, and many students learn this imperfectly or not at all, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to teach it.

I’m not in any way trying to disparage trade or vocational education, by the way; quite the opposite. I think it’s an excellent choice for many, many students, and I wish parents, high school counselors, and employers would treat it as a serious and respectable choice, instead of automatically steering students toward universities even if they haven’t got the interest or aptitude for a university education.

The best analogy I can think of is that going to college for job training is a bit like going to church because it’s a good way to meet potential friends and partners. In practical terms, that IS one function that churches fulfill, and it may be the only reason why a lot of people go to church in the first place. And most churches are OK with it and even willing to add programs to encourage it, because they want to encourage anything that gets people in the door. But that isn’t the purpose of church, and most pastors would be rightfully annoyed if you told them to skip the sermon and go straight to coffee hour because that’s the only reason why most of their parishoners come anyway.

No, because that’s the job of the high school guidance counselor. AT some time BEFORE you get into college someone should be saying “Biology, huh? Well, why don’t you interview some working Biologist and get a feel for what that would be like.” And you find one or two, and discover that they have a minimum of a Master’s degree. Or “English, huh? What are you going to do?” And talk about getting a PhD to teach college level, or a teaching degree to teach high school, or what freelance writing is actually like.

We did an amazing high school civics research project - you picked three careers you were interested in. You had to find out what the job requirements were, what the outlook was for the profession (i.e. how many jobs were out there), do an interview (just one for whatever was the most likely), what sort of salary you could expect. Opened up my eyes to “get out of college and get offered a job in your profession.”

If college doesn’t prepare you so well for the “real world,” let’s see how well you would fare getting a decent paying job with decent future career potential without a college degree.