I think my education gave me confidence, I learned how to think. I believe though that my graduate degree did more for me than my undergraduate degree. My undergraduate degree was simply the price of admission to the labor market.
Your sentiments resonate with me, Stacey. I loved my undergraduate experience, both for what I learned about geology (my major) and for the way it shaped my thinking. I began to “grow up” as an undergraduate, and I feel deeply indebted to my professors and my alma mater for that.
It was sobering, though, to graduate in 1985, when oil was selling for $8 per barrel and even master’s degree-holding geologists were struggling to find employment related to their university training. I learned that my major was designed primarily to prepare me for graduate study in the same field. I’ve since learned that many majors embody the same objective. As a teen-aged college student I wasn’t thinking about $8 oil (the price was $30 when I started) or the importance of a complementary minor in a field such as business or accounting that would have helped me find employment straight out of college. We can do more to help undergraduate students, not only with academic advising but with degrees that prepare graduates for work as well as further study.
I couldn’t agree with you more. There has been a growing distance in the reason most people seek a degree and how most professors think about that degree. I believe that the ability to think and be educated should be the purpose of education, but it has become the price of admission to participate in the workforce, which is why most students attend college. I am equally surprised though (after having had negative experiences with students who just want to study to exams) that when you challenge college students to really learn, and demonstrate learning in a meaningful way (beyond exams and papers) they often rise to the challenge. Students want to learn, but they are rarely challenged to move beyond the structure that the university has produced and reproduced.
In our struggles to succeed in challenging tasks, we learn by hard experience the importance of following Stephen Covey’s rule of beginning with the end in mind. It’s natural for students, at the start of a four-year degree program or a semester-long course, to become task-oriented without first appreciating the purposes of the tasks. But it’s equally natural for them to be curious about those purposes. It’s also not difficult for a good teacher to satisfy that curiosity, having traveled the path themselves. I believe that we’ll increasingly see courses–both online and face-to-face–help students begin with the end in mind. As that happens, the quality of their learning will skyrocket, and higher education will experience a renaissance.
On a similar note related to if the university is worth saving, it’s hard to prove causation, but there’s ample evidence of correlation between the rise of American-style universities and economic and social prosperity. It’s also possible to identify particular discoveries made in universities that have changed the world for the better. Jonathon Cole’s book “The Great American University” describes many of those discoveries. In time, some of them would have been made in non-university research environments, such as government laboratories or corporate R&D centers. In fact, the proportion of discoveries occurring in those places is increasing. However, there’s a good argument that the university environment remains uniquely fertile when it comes to the purely theoretical research that makes applied R&D possible.
A similar argument can be made for the role of the traditional university (or college) in shaping the lives of students. Most of us who have attended one of these institutions know from first-hand experience that things happened on the campus—often outside of the classroom—that can’t be quantified but were fundamental to our education. “Going to college” is more than a matter of passing the classes or even mastering the formal subject matter. Particularly for young students, the face-to-face social interactions with academic mentors and fellow students can be invaluable. As a society we’ve invested vast sums in the campuses that make these experiences possible. Purely online learning is an acceptable alternative if you can’t afford to access to a traditional campus, but we ought to search for new models that give even the poorest students a choice. Fortunately, they exist.
Yes, I’d have to say that a university education was worth it for me. But I completed my B.S. degree in 1961 when tuition wasn’t as exorbitant as it is now. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend Washington University in Saint Louis for my undergraduate degree in chemical engineering. The tuition for my last semester was about $950 if I remember correctly. Now tuition at WUStL is out of sight!
I earned an MBA degree from the University of Utah in 1967 after military service and while working. I was able to obtain financial assistance through the Veterans Administration, so the cost to me was minimal.
These two degrees prepared me very well for my working life. I have to say that attending college was a life-changing experience for me. The engineering degree taught me analytical and problem-solving cognative skills and the MBA taught me business skills. But more importantly, these educational experiences created in me a desire to continually learn and to grow. I obtained both cognative skills as well as attitudinal and values skills that have served me well over my fifty-year career.
Donald, your story epitomizes the dream of higher education: affordable, economically valuable, and personally transformative. As universities and colleges embrace online learning technology and focus on these goals, they’ll be able to help a new generation of students write stories like yours. Thanks for your great testimonial.
Undergraduate campus life provided a diverse face-to-face socialization into a world beyond my hometown and local community. Diverse classes and freshman year high demands forced me to face a requirement to learn personal discipline, and to explore previously unknown areas of academic interest, with professors who knew subjects far beyond mere high school teacher capacities. In that world, I learned what I did not know, what I wanted to learn, and where I could see the world unfolding ahead for a career. I was not particularly confined by social mores or rules so I tried out a lot of living as well, along with other people who would become lifelong friends. These are not available in an on-line learning mode. I was fortunate to attend college in 1960s at Rice where there was NO tuition, and room and board on campus were less than a thousand dollars per semester. Books were not outrageously priced either. Many professors were available outside of class for consultation and discussions, and many campus organizations provided further personal opportunity for living expansion…through one of these I was able to obtain an intership in Switzerland, which greatly broadened my interests and sophistocation level, and all of these came into a career play when IBM and other major US corporations came onto campus for RECRUITMENT into their organizations on a personal and face-to-face level. As a lifelong member of the IT world that evolves after my graduation, I know the limitations that technology plays in social development, and the hidden cost of tech problem resolutions when things don’t do right with communications, operating systems, and devices. I DO believe that the entire concept of a College Education today has been severly modified to become mostly an extension of Things not Learned in High School Those who attend Private Schools are vastly ahead of the public school attendees, in social as well as academic prowess.
Definitely worth it, even it was at Harvard, and it prepared me well for my career. System needs to be far more efficient — get the students out faster. Public research universities will be even more research intensive in the future (watch out Ivy League) as state support evaporates. Shame on states like California for dismantling a wonderful university system. The globalization of higher education will be the saving grace for US universities — justifiably more and more international students want to study abroad, and the US is still their number one destination.
It has been worth all the money spent over the years. I had the opportunity to work as an engineer after my undergraduate engineering degree (6 years) and as an IT professional after an MBA with a concentration in MIS. I will say we do whatever we can to keep educating our youth. The future of this country will depend on them. I am worried about the quality of teaching in our high schools, though. It seems the youth are not being pushed hard enough at that level and so some seek easier ways to get by, by taking easier courses and avoiding hard courses, such as calculus, and STEM courses. This in turn leads to problems with employment (because most of the new jobs being created require analytical and quantitative skills). As part of the solution, I think we should incorporate some kind of supplemental online-education to help re-inforce relevant concepts at the high school level. This way when these students get to the universities they can take full advantage of the opportunities available and prepare themselves for work life. The university should not be the place to learn and master basic concepts. The university should focus on preparing students for the future work life. Irrespective of the cost of a university education, most graduates (in the STEM area) I know break-even after less than 4 years of employment. I do not have any regrets, my education has been worth it.
I was very fortunate in being admitted to Princeton University in the Fall of 1974. While I was not very well prepared either academically or socially to handle the extraordinary challenges that awaited me there, the liberal arts education that was offered to me was arguably one of two pillars that would anchor me for the next 35 years of my life. (The other anchor, the moral training/ethical construct, I would have to seek and build for myself in the coming years.) Truly, reading and writing took on a whole new meaning, with scores of books purchased, a slew of papers written and independent projects completed in a torrid eight straight semester run.
I look back from my mid 50s, having committed my professional life to the world of education, and seeing clearly that while majoring in history at such an institution was not particularly good for any type of job, it was extraordinarily beneficial for living what, as David Brooks called on 8/2/10 in the NYTimes, the “Summoned Life”. With a hats off to Clayton Christensen for offering another alternative, I have found that you have asked the wrong question here. Because it assumes that I set out on a career path at age 18-22. Not so.
What I found was that this particular university education offered me the ability to never be boring after 5pm. It offered me the ability to engage in civic dialogue, whether speaking well at a faculty meeting or writing some on a blog or post. It also offered me the ability to choose different types of work along a life’s trajectory, from high school teaching to graduate level teaching and understanding the important questions that would drive my own efforts.
In the end, then, college prepared me for my future life. Not necessarily a career path. But, rather, a life comprised of different chapters, each of which (even the first one) I could NEVER have imagined back when I was a post-adolescent, nor even a young adult. Crucial pieces of my life’s puzzle (especially in my search for Truth, having become a Christian at 21 and later on, as a graduate student at Harvard, a Latter Day Saint at 31) would allow me to be so grateful for this type of education, with my mind NOT clearly “made up”, with my heart still open to the mysteries that abound, and to my soul that quenched for far more than any training that a local college or technical school could have ever offered.
The purpose, as far as I can tell, of a university education is to allow the student to be exposed to a universe of ideas – perhaps, to the chunks of the best that mankind can offer. And so, my own experience was definitely worth it. But only because it prepared me for taking a serious run at “fulfilling the measure of my [unique] creation”. Which has made all the difference for me, that I might have joy. And not just success in the workforce.