Putting the Higher in Education
Solutions often look at efficiency in an institution or its relative quality, but perhaps the most detrimental and least questioned problem is our outdated and perverse obsession with a well-rounded education.
This outdated model of education goes back to a time of plutocracy, when only elites could afford an education and upward mobility was difficult. The work force was poorly educated, illiterate and most jobs involved manual labor. Having any education separated one from the masses.
The inherent problem with any policy seeking to be well-rounded, fair or balanced, is that real life is none of these things. An education in math or science intensive subjects are generally a better value. Ignoring this reality is why ideas like, “degrees are less valuable today,” are often misinterpreted or overstated.
Our well-rounded education system makes another error in assuming the value of subjects are static over time.
An example could be the common introductory history classes required for each student. Today’s students study history from the elementary level through the high school limiting the amount of new information a college student is likely to learn. Class sizes are in the hundreds and scantron tests are the norm. Collegiate history classes resemble a Jeopardy cram session far more than an intensive collegiate course designed to hone critical thinking skills.
If these classes cannot be taught in a way which encourages broad understanding then what is the point? With the advent of the search engine, learning trivia is only a few clicks away. Why make students spend the time and money on a game show education. Wouldn’t it be better spent learning information more applicable in today’s economy, information that is actually higher level and not freely accessible?
The final absurdity of a well-rounded education is the rational choices it encourages. Requiring students to fill out their education with subjects from political science, social sciences or humanities creates a collegiate market for blow-off classes. It enables an attitude where, “my potential employers won’t care about this subject so I’ll take the easiest course.” Students regularly trade information on the easiest classes to fulfill this or that requirement turning a noble, if ignorant, goal of a balanced-education into a catalyst for lesser education.
Rapid technological advancement with the advent of the internet and increasing globalization have changed the structural make up of the workforce. Technical knowledge and expertise are the future. A game show education is obsolete. Universities need to adjust to this new reality.
There will be those who believe a well-rounded education is best. Old tropes like, “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it” will be regurgitated.
Reforming educational requirements would be difficult to implement because of laws and the nature of education at competitive universities. Real reform takes time but it is never too soon to start looking at the very real problems and priorities in higher education today.
It takes 120 hours to receive a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M. In economics, my major, I am required to take 33 hours of economics courses, including econometrics. That will be supplemented with six hours of math, which are certainly needed, three hours of statistics and three hours of English which are worthwhile but accompanied by additional hours studying relevant topics like Twilight. That puts me at 45 hours with 75 left to fill out in courses designed to give me a well rounded education. Almost 63 percent of my education will have almost nothing to do with my major.
Many of these fillers will hone valuable skills like choosing between A, B, C, D and E. They will be filled with forgettable trivia accessible at the click of a mouse and ofteb easily learned by simple reading and having the slightest sense of curiosity.
Higher education in the U.S. isn’t preparing students for the jobs that are available. We live and study in an outdated system which mistakenly places equal value on knowledge that isn’t equal. The best thing our education system could do is stop core curriculum requirements and take a long hard look at our educational priorities. With a more valuable and practical education students might get jobs paying well enough to become a well rounded individual.
Taylor Wolken is a junior economics major and editor-in-chief of The Battalion
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