The value of a college education

By on September 30, 2014

Lets face it; a college education is expensive—and it’s not getting any cheaper. This fact, combined with a recovering economy, leads some students to choose majors that will yield higher initial returns on college investments. Students neglect personal interest in order to recoup losses accumulated during their undergraduate education. Students choose a career path based on need, not enthusiasm; it is obligation over obsession.

A societal obsession with the immediate return on college education is counterproductive. College becomes less of a liberal base that springs a 20-something into a field they love, and more of an awkward walk across a tightrope to some predetermined destination. College, a period when students once discovered one’s self, is now an assembly line—mass producing less well-rounded individuals, and more intricately specialized ones.

Those who choose a major with a starting salary in mind often decide to study a science or math because traditionally, these fields offer larger starting paychecks. By picking a science-oriented major right out of the gate, it can be argued that those students are missing out on the liberal education college once was.

“You should discover what you are going to do through education—not sign up to be trained in a vocation before you know who you might be and what you might be able to accomplish,” President of Wesleyan University Michael Roth said in a book written on the topic.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not bashing those who study in the sciences, nor will I ever bash them; for some, science is a lifelong passion, and the health field is where they dreamed of working. What I am saying, however, is that reprimanding those who pick a liberal major is underserved, and many experts actually see the value of liberal arts degrees.

In a Chegg study released in the fall of last year, 1,000 hiring managers were interviewed regarding what they believed new graduates lacked. The study noted a large disparity between recent graduate perceptions of their skills and what their skill level actually was. In addition to this, the study said this: students lacked the ability to think critically.

So what’s the root of this problem?

Traditionally, liberal arts courses focus on reading, and while reading, students are expected to read between the lines—nothing is taken for face value. By critically reading texts, students also enhance their ability to critically think. Here’s an equation describing the relation: critical reading + time = critical thinking.

“When we learn to read or look or listen intensively, we are, at least temporarily, overcoming our own blindness by trying to understand an experience from another’s point of view,” Roth said in a New York Times opinion piece. “We are not just developing techniques of problem solving; we are learning to activate potential, and often to instigate new possibilities.”

So as more colleges focus on vocational-type education that put students on a fast track to a specialized career, critical thinking, a major aspect of what many employers look for, is not being honed or improved—it’s being neglected.

Although liberal art majors may have advanced critical thinking skills, some may argue that after college they won’t find a job, and if they do, they aren’t being paid well. According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, students who come out of college with a liberal arts degree do start off making a substantial amount less than their colleagues in the professional field. That being said, by mid-career, those with liberal bases make about $2,000 more than their colleagues in the professional field.

So what does this all mean? I am not writing to hate on the sciences, and am actually impressed with anyone who understands and loves the sciences (I mean where would we be without science, anyway?). What I am saying is that many students come in to college unsure of what they want to do with their life, and then feel pressured to declare a major in a specific field that will offer a high starting salary.

There’s nothing wrong with not knowing. Go ahead and begin college undeclared; go study English, or philosophy or history; go taste a little bit of everything before deciding what will be eaten as your intellectual main course.

 

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