A theory on improving college education

The value of a college education is undeniable. Unfortunately, that value is difficult to quantify.  Perhaps this is part of the reason why the higher education system is racked by some major problems. Costs are prohibitively high, drop out rates are unacceptably high and a college degree doesn’t open as many doors in the job market as it used to.

As a result of these problems many students can’t get into college much less finish. Most of those who do will be burdened with crippling debt for half their adult life. Business are having difficult time finding skilled labor, and many (but not all) of the graduates coming out of university have only mastered rote memorization and test taking skills.

These are dynamic problems that require dynamic solutions. However, one thing is certain, we’re not going to get different results by doing the same thing. If we want a critical change in the results we need to make critical changes to the fundamentals of system.

Here’s one fundamental change we could make the university system that will seriously improve the matriculation and retention rates of students as well as improve the quantity and quality of graduates entering the work force. Of course, this isn’t a cure-all, but it will bring about a great deal of the change our society desperately needs.

Eliminate the standard bachelor’s degree that requires students to major in one core subject, minor in a secondary subject and take a number of classes that don’t directly apply to their career path. Instead, only require students to take the core classes related to their career path. Once those classes are completed give them a mini degree. Then if they want to go on to study a more broad spectrum of useful subjects then let them pursue that path, and give them another mini degree for having completed those classes. Remove the requirement to minor in a second subject altogether but leave the option open.

Now let’s weigh the pros and cons of this kind of system and see how well it will fit the needs of the modern world. We’ll start with the pros. Each item on the cons list will be followed by an analysis of how insurmountable that problem is.

Pros:

  • Students who can’t afford 4 years of school will be able to attain valuable job skills previously unavailable to them.
  • Students who can are willing to take on debt will have more options to choose how much debt they need to take on.
  • Students who could excel in a career field but can’t excel at the extra classes required by the current system will be able to get a useful certification.
  • The drop out rate will shrink drastically.
  • The equivalent of a full bachelor’s degree will be more valuable when competing against the mini degrees.
  • Workers will be able to enter the career field quicker.
  • It will be quicker, cheaper and easier to earn a second degree if you want to change career fields later in life
  • A more focused path of education will allow less freetime for partying, which will force students to focus on their studies.
  • A more focused path of education will force faculty to better streamline their courses to follow a more logical, goal-oriented curriculum.

Cons:

  • Students won’t get as broad of an education.

It would be more accurate to say that every student won’t get as broad of an education. Those who want to take more general classes will still be able to. Students who don’t want to, don’t need to, can’t afford to or aren’t academically inclined enough to won’t have to. And not every student needs as broad of an education, nor does every business want/need to employ/pay renaissance men/women.

  • A degree won’t mean as much.

A mini degree won’t mean as much. A full degree will mean more.

  • Harder for students to switch majors.

This will only be as difficult as colleges make it.

  • Students who want to change majors will have wasted their time and credits.

This is true to an extent, but this is also often true in the current system. Plus, if students are forced to focus on their career path they might actually discover that their current path isn’t for them quicker than if they piecemealed it over 4 years.

  • Harder for schools to start new courses.

While this is true it would be more accurate to say that it will be more difficult for schools to start new classes that don’t fit a career path. In that case, this would mean it’s harder for schools to start new classes that serve no purpose.

  • Less flexibility for universities will drive up costs.

Yes. There are instances where this will be true. However, if students don’t have to pay for 4 years of school it will be easier for them to pay higher costs if they have to pay for fewer classes.

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