Wick Sloane at InsideHigherEd.com wrote a piece on whether or not the Bachelor’s degree is relevant any more. In fact, he wrote an entire pamphlet on the topic, which is available as a free download at the previous link. Before you judge anything that I write here or the notion that a college education is obsolete, I encourage you to read the brief editorial posted at InsideHigherEd.com. One of the better parts of the editorial:
In MBA speak, the central cost driver of a college education is not health insurance, salaries, rising oil costs, or even costly academic journals. It is the four-year, 36-course structure that determines the cost of a college degree. This model, leading to annual tuitions and fees of $25,000 at public colleges and $50,000 at many private ones, crushes families with $100,000 to $200,000 in cost and debt.
Impossible to imagine the end of the bachelor’s degree packaged into four years? Most of us — households or other enterprises — from time to time take a look at the fundamentals of our budgets and ask, “Is there another way?” As an example, consider the bloodless iPod and MP3 revolution. What happened? A demographic cohort, people roughly 16 to 25 years old who wanted access to one song at a time in a form that could easily be shared among friends, revolted and created a new market when the music industry refused any modifications or price breaks.
Could something similar be brewing in higher education? Maybe a better question is whether something similar should be brewing in higher education?
I financed my own four-year degree and two-year graduate degree and saddled myself with $118,000 in student loan debt in the process. At this point in my life, I’m not bitching about the debt – it’s just a fact of life that I live with (and battle) everyday. Frankly, I think I’m doing pretty good in the battle considering that I started repaying these loans some two and a half years ago and thanks to extra payments against the principal amounts I’ve managed to lower my total amount owed to $105,000. Yeah, it’s still a disgusting number that has stifled my ability to do what other people my age are doing, but I’m making progress.
Since I received a Bachelor of the Arts Degree in English from my undergraduate institution I’ve often wondered about what a college degree really gets a person. Let’s face the facts – the world is built on networks, not on pieces of paper. It’s often a matter of who you know and how you know them that supersedes the competition of two equally qualified job candidates. Keeping this in mind, I’ve always considered my Bachelor’s Degree as my passport; in other words, I think that piece of paper is nothing more than a ticket to get on the train.
Going to college doesn’t “make” you smart. Getting a Master’s Degree didn’t “make” me smart. Sure, getting these two pieces of paper greatly increased my knowledge on a broad variety of subjects, but they didn’t create intelligence where it didn’t previously exist! I was always an excellent student and an eager learner. But high school kids don’t have the access to certain networks that college graduates have available to them.
As an Adjunct Professor at my local college, I encourage my students to take advantage of the opportunities that surround them. Become a member of a campus club, join a fraternity or sorority, take up your Professors on their offers to proofread your work or to stop in and have coffee with them during their office hours. I believe that the main purpose of going to college is to develop the types of networks that will get you ahead in life, not to keep your head stuck in a book. Granted, I do believe that college students have an obligation to be actively engaged in their education. However, the idea of what an “education” is needs to be broadened. English majors should be encouraged to take minors in Business or Information Technology. Those in the Business Department should look at minors in the Fine Arts or Art History.
This mixture of disciplines is not only good for the mind, but it vastly increases one’s social and (eventually) professional network. Unfortunately, not many average citizens can live the American Dream these days by simply obtaining a college degree and announcing to the job market that they’re ready to be employed. Let this be a suggestion to all of my college-age and high school-age readers – take advantage of your time on campus and build a diversified social network. Make the investment now and you’ll be glad that you did later.