Some smart friends and a prof (also smart) left comments regarding my rant-y post over the weekend about the University system. I wanted to respond but I broke Blogger's comment feature because I had too much to say. Here is my comment:

Hmm... I see we all have something to say about this, as we all have an intimate encounters with The University.

Though in my post I was very concerned about job preparation, it's just one of the reasons I went to school. The idea that is a place for academics to wrestle with ideas was a large part of what I wanted from my university career. But I couldn't find that most of the time. And then there were the classes where the prof or instructor doesn't want to be there, the material is tired, and the students (even the most eager ones) are uninspired and nothing comes out of those four months together. Because of the individualistic reasons for going to school, and because of the larger, dysfunctional political climate, this stuff slides by.

Ask any undergrad student at the larger Canadian universities if they feel the ideas they put forward in their assignments matter, or if they feel like the people at the registrar's office care, or if they are engaging with ideas in their tutorials or seminars in a meaningful way. I think most will say no.

On the whole, high school doesn't prepare students to engage that way, the university doesn't expect them to in order to graduate, and the students who are at University to participate in academia lose out. It's all very messy.

John, as you pointed out, parents send their kids to school so that they can get ahead. But with the schools increasing enrolment so dramatically (traumatically?), what sort of advantage in getting a professional career do most students have when they graduate?

Enrolment in arts and humanities programs are down (no citation, sorry), funding and enrolment for business, economics and law programs are up. I think students are finding that going to university alone isn't enough to get them where they want to be in life. They now have to be strategic about what to learn, to the detriment of their own self-fufillment and satisfaction. Or, maybe that says something about this generation of middle-class youth and the economic climate that we're in right now. Maybe too many of us are too concerned about careers and money.... I'm going to have to think a little more on that one. There might be another rant/post in this.

Anyhow, it was the tenor of the discussion on CBC that was really rubbed me the wrong way. There were too many people on the panel that flippantly dismissed the students' concerns. The administrators felt like they were doing everything they could under the circumstances and therefore, the students had nothing to complain about. With a little distance between the anger I felt on Sunday after listening to that program, I fully agree that on the whole, students get a lot out of pursuing post-secondary education. It can't be reduced down to dollars and cents. We get to meet cool, like-minded people, sometimes we get to learn from some really wonderful, life-changing professors; and best of all, we get to devote time to reading and writing. Much of what we gain is intangible but will stay with us for the rest of our lives. (Is that what we pay for? Shouldn't everyone have access to that? Again, questions for another time... ) However, none of this disqualifies students' intense want for more from their schools.

I certainly haven't covered all sides of this because I don't see them all. So, thanks to all of you for sharing this post and for contributing. This is good. This is what I wanted.

[P.S. I take back that bit about NYU... I have no idea if it's a program that's any better than a leading-edge program in Canada. I just am having career anxiety.]


jmax said...
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jmax said...

Re: enrollment in business, econ, law programs up at the expense of arts and humanities.

It might be that we've all been sold (including the policymakers) the idea that university programs lead directly to jobs. But does it really work out that way? Obviously, you need a law degree to be a lawyer (unless of course you're very sneaky :-) and probably an MBA if you want to be a CEO, but these are the high-visibility examples that might not be representative of the larger career picture.

I bet an awful lot of people's University-to-job trajectory is simply that University puts you in the loop with the people who are looking to hire.

So the idea that we should privilege specifically career-related programs is perhaps oversold. It's oversold because it's such an easy sell: it makes sense at first glance. But this kind of thinking takes away from the more general benefits we've been talking about.

Deanne said...

Everything that was shared about the benefits of the university are true! But are they doubly true now that tuition fees are uncapped and have doubled at SFU since 2001?

I think its unrealistic for universities to expect students to go into debt an (an average) value of $35,000 without expecting to be able to pay it off afterwards.