Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Making College Relevant

The New York Times ran a thought-provoking article this week titled "Making College Relevant." Writer Kate Zernicke describes a change in the nature of questions being asked by parents and children as they visit campuses:

"Even before they arrive on campus, students — and their parents — are increasingly focused on what comes after college. What’s the return on investment, especially as the cost of that investment keeps rising? How will that major translate into a job?"

I think those in the ivory tower who dismiss this line of questioning by parents as incorrect or inappropriate are making a grave error. In the end, the parents and students are the customers. We cannot simply ignore the reality of the marketplace. Yes, a broad, well-rounded education is critical. Yes, the selection of a particular undergraduate major is often not as critical as people think. Yes, critical thinking and communication skills (written and oral) are often essential building blocks to a successful career, regardless of your major. Yes, college is more than about an ROI calculation based on expected salary upon graduation. All these things are indeed true.

However, a college must prepare students for success both personally and professionally. We must help students discover their calling, and then prepare them to be successful in that vocation. We have to connect ideas and theories to the real world in which our students will have to live and work. Professors do need to spend less time pushing their ideological views on students and more time helping students truly discover their own beliefs, as well as the type of career about which they will have a great passion. In the end, it is about ROI broadly speaking, though the return should not be measured simply by the expected salary upon graduation.

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