What Colleges Will Teach in 2025

America must resolve the conflict between knowledge and know-how

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TIME Magazine Cover, October 7, 2013
Photographs by Peter Hapak for TIME

Reports on what supposedly educated Americans know—and more sensationally, don’t know—come along fairly regularly, each more depressing than the last.

A survey of recent college graduates commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and conducted by GfK Roper last year found that barely half knew that the U.S. Constitution ­establishes the separation of powers. Forty-­three percent failed to identify John Roberts as Chief Justice; 62% didn’t know the correct length of congressional terms of office.

Higher education has never been more expensive—or seemingly less demanding. According to the 2011 book Academically Adrift, by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, full-time students in 1961 devoted 40 hours per week to schoolwork and studying; by 2003 that had declined to 27 hours. And even those hours may not be all that effective: the book also notes that 36% of college graduates had not shown any significant cognitive gains over four years. According to data gathered by the Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media’s Marketplace, half of employers say they have trouble finding qualified recent college graduates to hire. Everybody has an opinion about what matters most. While Bill Gates worries about the dearth of engineering and science graduates, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences frets about the fate of the humanities.

(FULL COVERAGE: The TIME Summit on Higher Education)

Rising tuition costs, an underprepared workforce, an inhospitable climate for the humanities: each of these issues, among others, shapes arguments over higher education. True, polls suggest that most students are happy with their college experiences (if not their debt loads), elite institutions are thriving, U.S. research universities are the envy of the world, and a college degree remains the nation’s central cultural and economic credential. Yet it’s also undeniable that hand-­wringing about higher education is so common that it almost forms an academic discipline unto itself or should at least count as a varsity sport.

And so wring the hands of many parents, employers, academics and alumni in the fall of 2013 as the undergraduate class of 2017 begins its freshman year—and as parents of the class of 2025 contemplate the costs and benefits of college down the road. “Higher education is facing a real crisis of effectiveness,” says Michael Poliakoff, vice president of policy at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a group that supports traditional core curriculums and postgraduate assessment tests. At the TIME Summit on Higher Education on Sept. 20, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called for more accountability in higher education through the development of a university ratings system—one that could include the earning power of an institution’s graduates as a factor.

At a time when virtually every state is implementing new Common Core standards to increase the amount of general knowledge in math and English that a typical public-school student must master in K-12, there is renewed interest in the perennial collegiate argument over what’s called either general education or, more colloquially, core curriculum. At issue is whether there are certain books one should read and certain facts one should know to be considered a truly educated person—or at least a truly educated college graduate.

At the heart of the debate between traditionalists (who love a core) and many academics (who prefer to teach more specialized courses and allow students more freedom to set their own curriculums) is a tension between two different questions about the purposes of college. There are those who insist that the key outcome lies in the answer to “What should every college graduate know?”—perhaps minimizing the chances that future surveys will show that poor John Roberts is less recognizable than Lady Gaga. Others ask, What should every college graduate know how to do?

Those three additional words contain multitudes. The prevailing contemporary vision, even in the liberal arts, emphasizes action: active thought, active expression, active preparation for lifelong learning. Engaging with a text or question, marshaling data and arguments and expressing oneself takes precedence over the acquisition of general knowledge.

A caveat: the debate we are discussing here is focused mainly on selective schools, public and private, where there seems to be a persistent unease among key constituencies—parents, trustees, alumni and most of all employers—about undergraduate curriculums. The last time these questions were in circulation was in the 1980s, the years in which Education Secretary Bill Bennett pushed for renewed emphasis on the humanities and Allan Bloom of the University of Chicago published The Closing of the American Mind, a best seller that argued, among other things, that the great books were being wrongly marginalized if not totally neglected by the modern university.

That debate reflected larger arguments about the country’s trend toward the right under Ronald Reagan. What’s driving the core-standards conversation now is the ambition to succeed in a global economy and the anxiety that American students are failing to do so. How does the country relieve those fears and produce a generation of graduates who will create wealth and jobs? It’s a question that’s fueling the Obama Administration’s push for a ratings system, and it’s a question that isn’t going away.

The Roots of the Core
From the founding of Harvard College in 1636 until the Civil War, American university education was mostly about sending pious and hopefully well-read gentlemen forth into the world. As Louis Menand, a Harvard English professor and literary critic, has written, what Americans think of as the university is of relatively recent vintage. In 1862 the Morrill Act created land-grant universities, broadening opportunities for those for whom college had been a virtual impossibility. Menand and other historians of collegiate curriculums note that at Harvard in 1869, Charles William Eliot became president and created a culture in which the bachelor’s degree became the key credential for ongoing professional education—a culture that came to shape the rest of the American academy. The 19th century also saw the rise of the great European research university; the German model of scholar-teachers who educated under­graduates while pursuing their own research interests moved across the Atlantic.

The notion that a student should graduate with a broad base of knowledge is, in Menand’s words, “the most modern part of the modern university.” It was only after World War I, in 1919, that Columbia College undertook a general-education course, called Contemporary Civilization. By reading classic texts—from Plato’s Republic to The Prince to the Declaration of Independence, with the Bible and Edmund Burke thrown in for good measure—and discussing them in the context of enduring issues in human society, every student was compelled to engage with ideas that formed the mainstream of the American mind. The impetus for the move reflected a larger social and cultural concern with assimilating the children of immigrants into American culture. Robert Maynard Hutchins adopted a similar approach at the University of Chicago. The courses were not about rote memorization; they were (and are) centered on reading followed by discussion. They were (and are) required of all students, something that set Columbia and Chicago apart from many other ­colleges—and still does.

World War II helped bring about the Harvard Report of 1945, an effort by America’s oldest college to provide a common cultural basis not only for its elite students but also for the rising middle class. Students were expected to read, for example, the great books. As the decades went by, however, the assumption that there was a given body of knowledge or a given set of authors that had to be learned or read came under cultural and academic attack. Who was to say what was great? Why not let teachers decide what to teach and students decide what to study?

There are many cultural reasons for opposing the core. For instance, faculties generally dislike being told what to do. (Doesn’t everyone?) The most intelligent argument against a core? That the freedom to choose one’s academic path will stoke one’s curiosity and fuel experimentation. At places like Vanderbilt University (where I am a visiting faculty member) the curriculum alters the Columbia approach in two ways. First, students choose specific courses that the university believes provide what chancellor Nicholas Zeppos calls “both foundational knowledge and critical thinking. In other words, we encourage more student growth and risk taking in electing how one builds that foundation.” Rather than mandate a specific set of general-­education courses, Vanderbilt asks undergraduates to meet distribution requirements, choosing classes in broadly defined fields including humanities and the creative arts, the history and culture of America, and international cultures. “So our approach,” says Zeppos, “allows for more exploration and risk taking.”

Knowledge itself changes, and not only in science and technology, where change is so rapid and self-evident. Appomattox will always have happened in April 1865, but one’s understanding of the causes, course and effects of the Civil War can shift. The prevailing academic culture puts more emphasis on developing a student’s ability to confront questions of interpretation by asking them more about why something occurred than when. But some raise reasonable concerns about this approach. “At prestigious schools, the majority of students come from strong backgrounds and will do well even without the core, but that is not the reality for all students,” says Poliakoff. “The core curriculum makes sure that all students develop the skills they need to be successful.”

So what to do?

A Question of Assessment
Page A1 of the Wall Street Journal ­often brings news that matters to America’s striving classes. One such story arrived this August. The headline “Are You Ready for the Post-College SAT?” was followed by a revealing subhead: Employers say they don’t trust grade-point ­averages. The piece explained the imminent arrival of an “SAT-like assessment that aims to cut through grade-point averages and judge students’ real value to employers.”

The Collegiate Learning Assessment, or CLA+, a voluntary test developed by a New York City–based nonprofit, the Council for Aid to Education, is to be administered to seniors at some 200 U.S. colleges and universities, including the University of Texas system and the ­liberal-arts St. John Fisher College near Rochester, N.Y., in an attempt to measure learning by asking critical-thinking questions. “Exit exams are an excellent idea because they are a quantifiable way of giving institutions and individuals the measure of the kind of progress they’re making,” says Poliakoff. And while an assessment like the CLA+ might help employers decide which students to hire, some argue that students and parents need more information to help choose a college. When Duncan told Time’s education summit about the ratings system envisioned by the Obama Administration, he described an approach that would take into account many metrics, including graduation rates, graduate earnings and a graduate’s student debt. The basic question, Duncan said, is this: “How many students at an institution graduate at a reasonable cost without a lot of debt and get a job in the field they choose?”

Fair enough, but none of this tests general knowledge. You don’t have to be able to identify, say, Albert Einstein or explain the difference between a stock and a bond. Critics of the CLA+ argue that institutions may be penalized for attracting strong students who score highly as freshmen and then just as highly as ­seniors—thus showing no growth. Others have even more fundamental problems with the idea of a universal test. “The idea of the CLA+ is to measure learning at various institutions and compare them,” says Watson Scott Swail, president and CEO of the Education Policy Institute. “I don’t think that’s technically possible with such a diverse system of higher education. That’s based on the fact that all the curriculums are different, textbooks are different, and you’re expecting to get some measure of—in a very generic way across all ­curriculums—how someone learns in one institution compared to another. All institutions are different, and all of their students are different.”

So why not make the diversity of American higher education an ally in allaying concerns about how much core knowledge college graduates take with them into the world? Why not honor the independence of each institution and encourage every college to create a required general-education comprehensive exam as a condition for graduation? Ask each department for a given number of questions that it believes every graduate, regardless of major, should be able to answer. Formulate essay questions that would test a student’s capacity to analyze and reason. In other words, take the initiative.

Yes, the departmental discussions about what an educated person should know about chemistry or Chinese or communism would be fraught and long. The good news, however, is that the debates would be illuminating, forcing academics to look to first principles, which is almost always a healthy exercise in any field. An institution might decide that such an assessment just isn’t for them, but it’s an idea worth exploring, for colleges could then control the process rather than cede that authority to yet another standardized national test.

What is heartening to those who believe in the value of a passing acquaintance with Homer and the Declaration of Independence and Jane Austen and Toni Morrison as well as basic scientific literacy is that there is little argument over the human and economic utility of a mind trained to make connections between seemingly disparate elements of reality. The college graduate who can think creatively is going to stand the greatest chance of not only doing well but doing some good too. As long as the liberal-arts tradition remains a foundation of the curriculum in even the most elective of collegiate systems, there is hope that graduates will be able to discuss the Gettysburg Address—in a job interview at Google.

 —with reporting by Eliza Gray/New York and Maya Rhodan/Washington

55 comments
ElizabethM
ElizabethM

No one thinks that maybe they're trying to cram to much in. If I want to learn about the Gettysburg Address, I can Wikipedia it. I went to college to learn something that will help me get a job and a history BA is almost useless these days.

ValanaTheorine
ValanaTheorine

I agree to an extent. I think the test developed by each individual college is a fantastic idea because it would measure the effectiveness of the students capacity to retain different skill sets other than the one they select to major in. The economic state of America today is deteriorating and therefore employers will view someone with a broad spectrum of skills to be ultimately more impressive and will be more inclined to hire them. As the old saying goes "jack of all trades, master of none." We live in a crumbling economy and having the range of skills developed by the "core curriculum" would be an efficient way to get new college graduates jobs and careers faster. I'm not saying we should take out masters, of course not. Everyone has a passion and they should absolutely pursue their dream to every single possible extent. However, sometimes that dream is postponed because of no openings in that job field or career path, the range of skill sets they would have been utilized with in college will have successfully prepared the graduate to take on a different job or career at least temporarily while they find an opening to the career of their dreams. I also agree with @Zeke199 in his concept of a persons life turning out different depending on basically the self motivation, characteristics, and confidence of said person. Having the security of knowing we as paying students are being prepared with a back-up plan for the unstable economy of today would help to advance all levels of self motivation etcetera. Therefore, causing people to become more economically aware and even more critically inept to help develop new ideas, thus creating a new dynamic generation of entrepreneurs.

johnjay13
johnjay13

As someone who goes to the Ivy League school, Columbia, im not surprised at all, people that went to state school from my high school are stupid...

OtaNick
OtaNick

I think we should find an equal balance with humanities  but both are being left behind by the times. Public education has very few vocational oriented classes. College should be the continuation of those classes. College is no longer preparing us for our future. Michael Poliakoff says it all. paragraph 8 is a great point on the study of humanites. I want to see equal balance and only then will I consider attending any college.  I agree with a mac to an extent. 

A_Mac_23
A_Mac_23

I believe that every individual has their own way of thinking and learning, therefore we should not be so concerned about forcing all students to learn the same material. To me, this is a waste of time for the students and teachers because they could possibly be learning without a purpose. Students should be learning and studying credentials that apply to their specific study to help them grasp a better understand and to further succeed in their future. Also, people should have a desire to want to learn and better their education. With this desire will come determination and a goal they want to reach, which will allow them to have a better idea of how they want to begin their career path journey.

srichter14
srichter14

While I agree with @csummers  that college should be a place for people desiring knowledge to begin their journey to their career path, I think that the idea of a standardized test post-college isn't such a bad idea. I don't think that it should be nationally standardized, though. The tests should be individualized to each college and department. For instance, the ideal test that I imagine for an English major would be created by the English department and clearly focuses ON English, because that is what their major is in, isn't it? But also in the test would be simple math and science questions that one would be benefited by knowing in general after graduating college. So, I think that college should likewise work in the same way. Focus on the classes fitting a person's major, but sprinkle in some distributed skills and unrelated studies, not as single required classes, but as groups to choose from to fit each student. Because of the focus on the major-related studies, time wouldn't be wasted through 'pointless' courses. Through this system, I think that graduates would feel like they were challenged with subjects that were not in their own realm and subsequently feel like they were more likely to succeed. Because the statistics show that it's not guaranteed to get a job within their major, this method is both practical for job-seeking and successful for their life in general.

LauHiengHiong
LauHiengHiong

What familiar findings have been reported on educational problems in developing countries! Over 80% graduates taking English as their major at English or foreign language departments in about 70 private universities of science and technology in Taiwan are incredibly disappointing in their English skills. The students cannot read New York Times with reasonably understanding; nor can they write in 30 minutes a 100-word readable comment without too many serious mistakes; nor can they listen and understand news reports from local ICRT or CNN; nor can they say clearly and logically about their goal(s) of attaining university, for instance. The educational authorities care too much about what is measurable.

The main culprit lies in the too much democracy popular on campus -- little limitation for student admission, slack disciplinary regulations, casual uses of student evaluation of teacher performance, among others. Most seriously, the rampant populism erodes traditional values at all levels of the society. The immoderate democracy has done almost irreversible damage to the whole region.

Lau Hieng-Hiong, Hsinchu, TAIWAN

nichole2324
nichole2324

I believe that core classes should not be a type of system in colleges. The high school education system should have taught enough of core material so that it prepared students in basic knowledge. College should be a place where an individual has the ability to study what they want to. Instead of a standardized test about core subjects, there should be a certification test that shows what skills and knowledge that person has in the particular field of work.

ClintonSummers
ClintonSummers

Hm. Well if there's one thing I don't do, it's wasted time. Wasting my time is definitely the biggest waste of time...yeah. So let's say I want to go into the field of music after high school. I don't actually, but let's say that I want to go to college, study music, and get my masters in Music Composition. The last thing I care about is calculus and chemistry. Frankly, it would be a waste of my time to attend many of these core classes after high school. Sure, it's not a bad idea to sharpen my knowledge on subjects I'm not interested in to become a "well-rounded" person--the sole reason many say to go to college and as this article implies. Taking those classes as a music major would not be a bad thing at all! But testing students over a wide range of core subjects in order to gauge their knowledge and intellectual ability? In order to graduate, students must take yet another standardized test? Really? College should be a place where thirsty-for-knowledge young people can begin their journey on a career path of their choice. That means specialized study and hands on learning. Not a broad, high-school modeled curriculum and standardized tests. If you haven't noticed, adults that have already graduated from such institutions have typically followed their major and their degree. If they're smart that is. And how many of these adults, twenty years after graduating college, retained what they learned in the core classes unrelated to their field, the classes that make us "well-rounded"? I can guarantee that if I obtained my masters in Music Composition and began my career as a writer/conductor of music, I would not remember anything I learned in calculus or chemistry twenty years later. Nor would I need to remember. I don't think cosine and bromine are in the job description. To test students on subjects useless to them and their destined careers in order to graduate is absurd to even consider. College is an opportunity. For those with dreams and a thirst for knowledge. A place for those who are passionate about something. And college should not be a place where students' time is wasted. Because I'm going to go to college, and I don't do wasted time well.

BrettSooter18
BrettSooter18

I think that we must have a desire to learn, but we must ask ourselves if people who influence the education system really prepare us in things we use in life. Sure a standardized test would help people find out where they stand on their education, but considering we are all taught on a "core" system I don't know if it would really change anything.  I believe some of the problems would be solved if the government loosened the reins on the system and aloud more creative thinking in school, rather than beating the information into the students heads.

charliehorton.bhs
charliehorton.bhs

The article shows how much government should be involved in the educational process. I believe that a national standardized test is to large to control no matter how simple the idea of giving every American student the same test may be. If institutions created the tests then individuals would know where they stand at that particular institution whereas a standardized national test really does prepare anyone for a particular college. 

TristanPayne
TristanPayne

I think that a comprehensive test would be a great idea for colleges. The test would be even better if its design was left to individual institutions as stated in the article. Hiring a third party to create tests for colleges would just complicate things. The exams would not necessarily be to test retained knowledge. The exams would focus more on critical thinking learned in courses taken at the institution.

CallMeTheQB
CallMeTheQB

I have to agree with Zeke199, because that is true, we must have a desire to learn, with that desire to learn, we as individuals can go far! Also having an objective in learning. Focusing on a specific objective to further your experience on what profession you will do.

kaelathompson
kaelathompson

The notion that colleges should make students pass a standardized exam to graduate is ridiculous. Students go to college to narrow their broad expanse of high school fluff down to a specific field that interests them, and qualify themselves for a a job in that field. Forcing them to regurgitate basic information that they will never use in their specific field of work seems like an unnecessary waste of time to me! Why not instead teach them to think outside the box and be good problem solvers? It sure seems like the rational thing to do.

jimstreisel
jimstreisel

I have been a high school journalism teacher for 19 years, and while I agree with much of what the author suggests, I can’t help but think of our journalism curriculum and think he’s not gone far enough. While the question of “What should a college graduate know how to do?” is a better question than “What should a college graduate know?” I believe neither question really gets to the heart of the issue.

When I was in the English department years ago, I remember conversations with my English colleagues. They usually fell along the lines of “Students can’t possibly leave school without having read XXXXX.” I would speak up in these meetings and ask why. “I haven’t even read XXXXX and I have an English degree,” I would say. “Does that make me less of a teacher or a well-educated person?” The point was, I knew how to read books – any book – and I had learned to make associations from those books to my daily life. It didn’t matter what I read.

To my way of thinking, the better questions should be as follows:

·Do high school/college graduates know how to ask the right questions?

·Do they know how to find/where to go to find those answers?

·Do they know how to apply those answers to their daily lives/projects?

This isn’t a simple question of whether students know the difference between a stock and a bond or whether they can identify Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in a photo (as the author illustrates). Rather, when the time comes, can they look up relevant, credible information? Can they look critically at the information they find? Can they use their powers of deductive reasoning and healthy skepticism to find answers that are suitable for their needs? At the very core (pun intended), do they know how to ask the right questions in the first place, do they know where to go to find the answers and do they have the wherewithal to makes sense of those answers when they get them?

I go back to Diane Ravitch. In her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, she discusses how our society’s recent push toward accountability via increased testing is undermining our students’ ability to learn. I am inclined to agree with Ravitch’s assessment. Rather than focus solely on questions of content (What do we want students to know?), Ravitch says we must focus instead on the larger questions those tests don’t answer – “Why do we educate? What is a well-educated person? What knowledge is of most worth? What do we hope for when we send our children to school? What do we want them to learn and accomplish by the time they graduate from school?”

Journalism classes do this. Media literacy does this. Common Core does not. Standardized tests do not. Our society is pushing in the wrong direction.

LMGWH
LMGWH

Suggesting that a required common core of courses and literary works be required as part of third level education, flies in the face of what a modern university education should be. The tin-can cannot be kicked that far down the road, and colleges should not be expected to pick up the pieces of a failed grade school education. Zeke 199 is correct, the arts and humanities are not the answer. Third level education is a business which has grown by establishing degrees and courses that are of little use to the graduating student. Educated in Europe, I experienced a degree system that separated science, technology, and engineering  form the arts. The vast majority of courses taken focused on the major and minor of interest. Once a science student in a world class European university,  I can safely say that we were a well written, well read, creative, innovative group of individuals with a multitude of interests that spanned a myriad of genres. We did not need to take a course in the classics, fine arts, history etc. to graduate and become successfully employed.  

The suggestion that a common core at the third level may be the answer, implies that the student body, carefully selected based not only on academics but other activities and interests, are incapable of pursuing those (or other) interests in college unless they take a course in it! Further it suggests that creativity and work preparedness can only be born out of the humanities, which is completely untrue. Einstein who disliked the classical education of the time, would roll in his grave in response to this limited ideology.

Having watched my children grow within the US educational system that promotes constant quizzing and testing (an almost daily event), multiple choice based testing, spoon-feeding through the use of a rubric based system for essays and projects, failure to challenge, and a constant need for parental oversight if the child is to succeed. Teachers and counselors at the middle school and high school level often encourage student to play it safe - the the easier class where we know you will get an "A," instead of encouraging the child to try tougher classes, even if that means a "B" or horror of horrors a "C." If US students are to become, creative, innovative beings ready for the workplace, that process needs to begin at the elementary level with a system that promotes independent thinking, the ability to discuss, rationalize, compare, contrast, question, and promote long-term memory (rather than short-term memory) with less testing, parent involvement and a challenging environment. 

Zeke199
Zeke199

One must have an objective in learning, and the objective must serve the desired outcomes.  If employment rather than a diploma is the primary outcome, then academics must first ask a very broad base of employers whether the great books & other tenets of Liberal Arts education will adequately prepare the next generation of employees & leaders.  If the answer is no, then academics must decide to either tread on in the ways of a bygone era, or prepare their students for a future with true potential.  Many claim the latter but do the former, hence the stalemate in this multi-decade debate.


Regarding our continued economic malaise & proposed solutions, one might allege "It's the economy, stupid" but they miss the mark - What drives the economy is what drives our growth.  More specialized education is needed today & in the future to ensure an adequate supply of properly trained employees & leaders to address current & emerging trends.  The glut of unemployed & underemployed Liberal Arts degree holders cannot be retrained fast enough, cost-effectively, or in some cases at all, to fill the many jobs requiring specialized training (engineering, etc.).  Sadly, we must look abroad or to our next generation hopefuls to address our needs.  Meanwhile, academics still pine for more Liberal Arts programs & students to grant themselves & their colleges "job security".  Who is serving whom???


As a middle-aged father of three & having a multi-decade career of international business experience, I've seen college graduates of all stripes & persuasions and have concluded this debate begins & ends with an individual student's character.  I've witnessed some college graduates grow & blossom into stellar employees & eventually managers within their departments, while other "better" educated employees don't perform as well in the same roles as their peers.  Individual commitment to purpose, organizational mission, wisdom, intuition, attention to detail, personal action, and a dash of "street smarts" separate advancers from decliners.  Especially for mid-career promotions or job changes, these are essential skills for one's advancement.  Certainly who you know can trump what you know at times, but the baseline is one's character development & how it is consistently demonstrated by ones actions each day.  In the end, that's what a properly executed job interview process is all about.  A Liberal Arts degree earned by an intelligent student lacking these character traits will inflate their egos but not the bottom line of the employer who might hire him/her.

Thankfully, the author laments John Roberts' relative anonymity but doesn't address the causes, the chief being our society's accelerating collective ADD.  Studying the great books might help to regain attention span lost to pop culture & social media, but just as with America's overweight/obesity problem, human nature gravitates to easy to obtain snacks.  Junk food is packaged in more sensational ways than healthy food, and so it is with information, news, education, etc.  Real knowledge comes from real effort applied to real learning.  Real effort will happen only when an individual has that a-ha moment of understanding, an objective, and sees a tangible path toward that end.  Liberal Arts education in most cases isn't that tangible path, as evident by the number of highly-educated & under-employed workers today.

Zeke199
Zeke199

There is nothing new stated in this article - this reads like something from 1983 or 1978 - and it FAILS to resolve or properly state the key issue - what is higher education's role in supporting a changing society & workplace (rather than vice-versa).  Once again it's Liberal Arts professors / Academia playing the enlightened victim card vs. employers & society.  Little changes in this debate while the world changes greatly around them each year.  Some parties continue to debate what should be in the "core", while others debate whether a core should even exist.


The best piece of advice I received in my Bachelor's & Master's studies was this - "Your degree is a license to learn", meaning it's not an end to itself, but rather one proof or datapoint indicating potential for continued learning & viability as an employee.  As one who's hired many people during my time, a college degree should never be viewed as proof one has "arrived", but rather one is just beginning (hence commencement), regardless of one's field of study.


As a personal experiment today - ask any of the "well-educated", well-intended, well-read recent college graduates serving as your barrista or serving your lunch about this debate.  I'm certain in an honest moment they will confess remorse for not having followed a more pragmatic career path stemming from a more practical (and employable) college path.  Their path chosen unto a Liberal Arts degree has placed them in a position of looking for liberal handouts today.  Had many of these bright people been directed in a path of more pragmatic education leading to a higher likelihood of gainful employment within their field of study, I'm certain many would have chosen it & would be out of their parents' home by their mid/late 20s (or 30s)!

jrllanes
jrllanes

Part of the problem of the dumbing down of America is the press. More than universities the press have access to many more eyeballs. This article uses the word curriculums instead of the correct plural of curriculum, curricula. The fact that fewer than 1 in 10 of my students know it is a latin word and know how a plural of those words are constructed, is not due to me in the classroom but to you in the press. Point a finger at yourselves and see what you can find about this issue.

dougcachet
dougcachet

Every article about the cost of college should include 2 facts:#1 One of the main reasons college graduates make more $ than high school graduates is b/c they were smarter & more ambitious BEFORE they went to college.Think about that logically:Of course, Harvard graduates are going to be successful – Harvard only accepts geniuses.#2It doesn’t matter where you go to college.It’s actually been proven by looking at essentially identical students who were both accepted at 4 year public & private colleges – one goes to the cheaper public college & the other goes to the pricier private college, both major in the same thing. In the end, their career results end up about the same.

BrandonJohns
BrandonJohns

Well I hope colleges won't be the Marxist indoctrination camps that they are now in 2025. We have got to take back our educational system. Professors are supposed to teach the subjects they were hired to teach.

bosque
bosque

The article says higher education is ''less demanding'' because students don't memorize certain facts that are easily available in the internet. As a professor of Graduate Teacher Education, I make a serious effort to promote higher level thinking skills such as rationality and self-awareness. I want my students to be able to locate needed information and then analyze it, evaluate it and apply it, not memorize the innumerable facts that are constantly being flashed into our consciousness.  

Vivian Bosque, Ed.D., Nova Southeastern University, Miami, FL

MatthewMoen
MatthewMoen

Let me start off my rant about how stupid and close minded this article is by pointing out TIME magazine's big article this year was about how the millennial generation is self centered and too dependent on "handouts" even though we are the generation that has been screwed over the most by the past generation. But back to this article, I think it is idiotic to think that there needs to be a standard knowledge that everyone should possess. Everyone does not need to know the same things in order to have a healthy society, in fact the exact opposite is true, everybody having knowledge of different things is what makes society as whole more intelligent overall because it allows for people to become highly specialized in a field and then share their wealth of knowledge with others who are specialized in a different and create a much more rich exchange of knowledge. On a smaller scale it gives better grounds for discussion and opportunity to learn instead of a conversation going: "Hey, did you know who the chief Justice is?" "Yep, John Roberts" there is more opportunity to learn from others in a richer fuller way. And I guess this is what my major qualm about a liberal arts education is, its a cop out, you get a basic study of several subjects and what do you come out with as an end result, a general knowledge that doesn't adequately prepare you for your chosen field. That is why people can't get jobs, society puts an immense amount of pressure on the 18 year old to decide what they want to do for the rest of their life then pay a ridiculous amount of money that they have no means to pay off (its not like they could get a job to pay it off because any job that could requires a college degree making paying of college loans a paradox in itself) its no wonder most take a liberal arts education because it buys them time to actually make up their mind. And my argument for colleges who make liberal arts credits a requirement is stupid as well, because why should I study in a field that has nothing to do with my job, its excessive and expensive. And to address the employer asking you about the Gettysburg address at your interview is completely ridiculous, unless my job is in government (and we all know that most of the people in charge of our government couldn't recite more than "four score and seven years ago" from it) why should my employer ask me a question that is unrelated to my knowledge of the field, if I am knowledgeable for the job there isn't any reason for the Gettysburg Address be a job requirement. Also the idea that every one should take a standardized exit exam is insane, what is that supposed to prove? That we can all learn the answers to a test? I can fill out a bubble with a number two pencil? All standardize tests do is cause stress and teach people to conform and stifle their creativity. The desire for everyone to know the same thing is more Orwellian  than the author could ever realize (course his head is up his ass so I imagine he really can't hear much) everybody deserves the freedom over their own brain, I should have the right to chose what I want to know (The Republican right is perfect example of selective intelligence). This whole intelligence race is idiotic, being smart as a nation should be some sort of competition to see who has more people that can do calculus, there are better methods out there that determine "genius" like the MacArthur grant or the Nobel prize but even then it is important to understand that knowledge like a lot of things is subjective. I know I'm biased because I am fortunate to be in a program that gives me the power to pursue things that interest me (the audacity!) so I end up believing my way is right, but then again the article points out that Columbia and Chicago are successful due to their  discussion style format, which is the same format all of my classes are in. My overall point I guess is that we need to be careful when we generalize intelligence as being a standardized thing, its not it varies from person to person and is a hard thing to measure. The person who invented the IQ test even said that we should not try to measure intelligence in such a rigid manner (I know this to be true because it was a whole unit in AP Psych and the point was that we should measure intelligence) I think we are trying to scapegoat our own short comings and that is just flat out wrong, I think the real issue that America needs to face is that TIME magazine is letting angry monkeys write their articles, aren't they supposed to be a reputable news source?

YittyGebru
YittyGebru

As a senior in an engineering program, I believe the biggest problem to our nations universities lies in them being a component of the capitalistic money making machine. The university was originally intended to be a place where students had the power. The first Italian universities had student committees with the power to fire their professors if they were not up to par. Modern universities are more about promoting how "fun" it is to live on campus, their athletic programs, and etc..

It's a shame, in my opinion, when universities have to concentrate on teaching their students critical thinking skills. In an ideal USA, critical thinking is what we would preach to a child from day 1. All children are born naturally curious of the world around them, but adults do a good job of beating it out of them with sports and religion.

Too many college students are there for the wrong reasons. Everybody just wants a fat paycheck, but nobody wants to enhance their understanding of the world around them. Universities are about quotas these days. America only wants to educate people enough to push buttons, but not to think for themselves. If universities had the human populations best interest at heart, don't you think they would vehemently protest the distribution of wealth in this country?

seizeabe
seizeabe

In 2025 colleges will not be teaching much any more!Colleges will be offices that print degrees on a payment, and coordinate placement, also on a payment.There will only be a few Ivy League Colleges, where the children of the 1% will visit / be sent / attend , at their leisure, to get away from their homes. All the courses will be open-book, open-Internet, own-time, open-discussion, at one's convenience, at-home, self-paced learning. Compulsory courses will be 'intro to congress' and 'networking in the modern world'.There will be no need for other colleges because the few children of the 99% would by then, be unable to graduate out of high school, and those who do, will not have the money to attend college. Most 99% will not have children, because they will not be able to afford them.

LarryMehlbauer
LarryMehlbauer

College attendees in 2025 will spend an inordinate amount of time learning to hate their country; learning that they are not responsible for their own maintenance; learning that the only god is big government; and believing that anyone who does not accept their beliefs is entitled to no freedom to participate in the public square.  Indeed, they may be taught that loyalty to the Big Government requires them to persecute those who try to be self reliant.  It  will take many years before they realize that shutting down those who believe in working for a living will leave them with a government that can no longer take care of them.

JanetLeClainche
JanetLeClainche

Education needs to be 3-fold - 1.  Teach skills needed for today (which varies according to the expert and social need) , 2. Teach people the skills to THINK critically, evaluate and decide and 3. Teach our classical background, history and philosophy so we understand what underpins our culture and country.  If you can find educational institutions (high school and beyond) that blends these three areas, then I think we have a model that we need.

Subprimemortgag
Subprimemortgag

I think that one of the points that is missing from this interesting article is that the role of the university has changed.

It used to be that universities were places to go and learn now they are places to go and be trained. The difference between learning and training is huge.

Universities as products of the times have evolved into being training facilities for the continuation and support of the global economic system. The article mentions this in several ways.

That the most important qualification of a recent graduate is how effective as an employee he or she will be, should tell us what the role of the university really is nowadays.

If the main goal of the world is economic, everything else will be aligned towards that goal, universities will not be an exception and furthermore they will be of vital importance to further the goal.

It is no secret that the academic curriculums and the manner in which information is given to students are heavily influenced by those who financially support the universities.

Universities are no longer learning institutions but training institutions, financially supported by those who benefit from such training.

RoyStone
RoyStone

The elementary facts/questions that are presented in the opening statement of this article  should have been taught in high school. Collateral learning/teaching techniques are needed at the collegiate level. Until secondary education fulfills its responsibility of not  graduating students who  are unable to process the cognition process of knowing,, including aspects of awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment, colleges and universities are caught between a rock and a hard place to delve into the what, why, when, how, where, and who on a different level.

EllieK
EllieK

@ElizabethM Only take one history class then. Liberal arts college curricula isn't rigid, nor is it about being a "Liberal". There were GOP where I went to school, though less than not.  I graduated from Swarthmore College, as a mathematics major. 

I took one American history class, and one ancient history class, which was considered Classics, as it was Roman Republic. That was 20 years ago. I was interested a little in American history, not at all in Classics. I really struggled with the latter! Oddly, I recall more about the Roman Republic than revolutionary war era America now. That's okay, because when I need to know about the Constitutional Conventions, I can read about them anywhere.

Skeeter
Skeeter

@johnjay13 

If your education is so superior, why do you write ungrammatically? 

ElizabethM
ElizabethM

The only people who put stock in an Ivy League education are people who went to an Ivy League school. Everyone else sees it as a waste of money. There are plenty of good state schools that educate just as well for three times as less. I wouldn't call that stupid.

earrizon
earrizon

Although I do agree that students go to college to narrow their interests. I feel that having a form of standardized tests would be beneficial to most if not all students to retain a minimal amount of information to use later in their life time. There could be multiple tests that deal specifically for certain major while subsequently testing students on their knowledge of basic information that one may use even without realizing it. Without some standardized our interests would be narrowed down to an extent to where students would be place on a path in the form of an infinity symbol, to where they are going on and on endlessly without getting the extra paths or opportunities in life that this basic information would open up.

CheyenneLaShawn
CheyenneLaShawn

@LMGWH I agree. Students need to challenge themselves because if they don't, what are they learning? Nothing. Challenging oneself promotes, like you said, independent thinking, the ability to discuss, rationalize, compare, contrast, question, and long-term memory. These are abilities that will be used later in life, that will definitely be needed. I also believe that the students should know how to do quite a bit of all of the main subjects (science, math, language, etc.). Doing this creates sort of a cushion for the student. If they don't find a job that relates to their major, they have other knowledge that they can fall back on without getting hurt.

mdycus
mdycus

@jrllanes I agree with you to a certain extent. Yes, the press has the attention of more students than a classroom teacher does. And yes, they are definetely not focused on teaching us correct grammar and latin roots. But as a student myself, I have to say that the artivle does point a finer in a reasonable direction. The author isn't directing the blame towards teachers as individuals, but otwards the curricula that are being inforced throughout universities and public school systems. The different curricula are not focused on students individully. Everyone learns differently. And the arguments of what we need to know and how we learn it are the main topics here. They are the main problems that are being addressed, and the finger pointing is being directed to the curriculum of the each individual university. 

ethanchapin22
ethanchapin22

@dougcachet I agree with your facts.  Of course, people that go to big name schools are more likely to be successful, its been set up for them, but some people bloom after high school.  There's a lot of people that didn't have the grades to make it to a big time college, but yet they still have the drive to be successful at a certain job.  Most employers don't care where a person has went to school.  They only care if the person works hard and does the job right. 

TristanPayne
TristanPayne

@dougcachet This is true. Getting into more selective colleges requires more from students such as higher test scores, higher GPAs, more community involvement, and extracurricular activities. Thankfully, employers don't look directly at what school you go to. They are more focused on your qualifications to hold the position applied for. Some may disagree that a bachelors degree does not represent TRUE qualification, but they have to admit it does represent some sort of will and ambition.

VMojica10
VMojica10

@bosque I believe you have a very valid point. Teachers now in day expect the minimum from their students, as long as the students complete the minimum the teachers are satisfied. No one pushes us to go out and beyond with anything. Students are taught in a numb school system where we do the bare minimum to succeed. When we get that one teacher that gives us the power to thing for our selves we go brain dead and have no clue what to do with our selves. We are so used to just being able to memorize the answer like you say that we do not want to make the effort to actually learn something. If every teacher was like you and pushed their students to dig a little deeper we would all accomplish great things. I had never had a teacher like Mrs P and now that I have her I have learned there is so much more to things than I ever thought there was. She was taught me to dig a little deeper, and I feel it taking me somewhere. 

britnismith10
britnismith10

I do agree that in order for society to be more effective, it would be beneficial for each citizen to be specialized in their field of knowledge. Not everyone is good at everything. This, in itself, takes the pressure off of students in the education system. They don not have to have knowledge about every area of study. By focusing their efforts on one specific field, they are able to go deeper in their understanding, rather than skimming the surfaces of many different fields. It is a simple fact that individuals are able to contribute more effectively when they have more knowledge about that subject.

HeatherMack96
HeatherMack96

I agree that if people study different subjects then our society will be more intelligent. People can pass on the information they have learned to younger generations and make our society more diverse. I also agree that standardized tests are bad. Like MatthewMoen said, they do limit student's creativity. Standardized testing only allow teachers to teach what is in their frameworks and they cannot fit in fun things to keep students interested in learning. This is a reason many students decide not to go to college; they are just not interested anymore.

TaylorLaCour1
TaylorLaCour1

@YittyGebru I agree with a lot of what you're saying. It's true that children are born naturally creative and ambitious. If you went into a classroom full of pre-k kids and asked them what they wanted to do when they grew up you would get answers from artist to firefighter to super-star singer to vet. (If you would have asked me when I was that age, I would have said the first woman president.) As kids go through the standardized school system they lose their creativeness. They are more worried about being right or wrong (or making money) than exploring all the possibilities. If you asked a group of high school students who wanted to be an artist after high school or college the majority would say no because "there's no money in that". 

I disagree with you in that it's wrong for college's to promote how fun it is to go to college. College is about more than just learning about your desired major. It's also about finding yourself, meeting new people, and having the time of your life. That's one of the main reasons I look forward to college. 

Fred-Crinson
Fred-Crinson

@YittyGebru It's not just America that is like that. Europe has the same issues, things are especially dire in the U.K. (Where I have the misfortune of residing)

#libtardedamerica
#libtardedamerica

@seizeabe 

 you seem to forget that it's poor people (i.e. the ones who can't afford kids) are the ones who have more children so, by your (flawed) logic, the 99% will actually have a ton of children

dougcachet
dougcachet

Put me in the category of "I don't mind if learning institutions are training institutions,"  if it would save me a boatload of $.  I was an economics-finance major in college and remember taking core curriculum courses like philosophy & sociology.   I kinda liked them both & pretty sure I got good grades in them.   Yet I couldn't help but think I could've skipped the classes, just bought the book for each course & saved about $5,000.          

Chosun1
Chosun1

@Subprimemortgag -- Actually, there is both general learning and vocational training that takes place at educational institutions known as universities.  Both types of education are valuable and worthwhile.  I think it is important that universities do carry out both functions in preparing their students to be both good employees, managers and leaders, as well as properly informed and inquisitive members of broader society.

Chosun1
Chosun1

@RoyStone -- You raise a valid point:  Too much is being left up to the colleges/universities.  I'm continually shocked by the inability of the large percentage of students to write basic sentences, spell or, not surprisingly, conduct even basic research from news stories.  Universities are expected to do the job of (1) high schools; (2) vocational/professional schools and (3) liberal arts schools.  They can do all of these but they shouldn't have to do the first if we want them to do a good job with either (2) or (3).  Frankly, I even more shocked when graduate students need to attend remedial reading and writing classes (this is a particular problem for former "student" athletes).  Just some thoughts that go along with your comment.

seizeabe
seizeabe

Often we make assumptions based on intuition.... Like you did of poor people.

What you assumed probably is the case in 3rd world countries.

And, there are lot many people in positions of authority, who make decisions based on those assumptions.

Here's US data, based on the 2011 census....

ECON1.B INCOME DISTRIBUTION: PERCENTAGE OF CHILDREN AGES 0–17 BY FAMILY INCOME RELATIVE TO THE POVERTY LINE, 1980–2011

http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/tables/econ1b.asp?popup=true

http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/tables.asp

It is very convenient to blame poor folks for all the ills of society.

The fact really is that, it is very, very, very, very hard for poor folks to climb out.

53% of Harvard 2013 freshmen are from incomes above $125,000.

29% are from $250,000.

An average instate college annual tuition fee is touching $10,000, approximately.

And, other expenses dorm, meal-plan & others is $15,000, approximately.

Even those in median incomes ($52,000) will find it very difficult, with just 1 child.

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