Feedback Loop: Why Do We Go to College?

Thursday, June 17, 2010 - 10:26 AM

Graduation at Roanoke College (flickr: Thom Watson)

This morning, we had another conversation about higher education, this time with Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. Carnevale is the co-author of a new study called "Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018," and those projections are dire.  According to Carnevale, "the post-secondary education system is not aligned with the jobs in the economy."

If colleges aren't training students for the careers that will need to be filled, putting us "on a collision course with the future," as the study says, then what, exactly, is the point of going to college? We asked you, why did you go to college, and what did you get out of it? Is the importance of the college experience in the experience itself, or should colleges place more emphasis on career training? As always, our opinionated listeners had plenty to say about the subject.

Danielle, from Gainesville, Florida, has no regrets about skipping college. She posted to our website:

"I'm 24 and have never gone to college. I work a full time job with paid vacation, benefits, and health care. My husband went to college and has 30,000 dollars of debt. I'm the one supporting our household because no one is hiring in his field. I wish he had just gotten an office job out of high school."

For "Azima," from Rhode Island, college was a practical choice (keyword:"practical"):

"Why did I go to college? At 25 years old I was tired of being a bank teller, or waitress or chamber maid, so I went to community college. Although I enjoyed literature, music and art, it never occurred to me to try to get a degree in those fields for, what I thought, were obvious reasons (i.e., who will pay me to read?). I chose a program called Chemical Technology, which trained me to be a chemistry lab technician. Although I had no prior interest in chemistry, I actually enjoyed the subject. A few years later I was perusing the want ads and saw a headline, 'Pharmacists - 40K!' (a good salary in the 80s). I earned my degree and worked for years in pharmaceutical R&D. In other words...I followed the money! Kids are told today that they 'can do anything.' Most public schools no longer prepare students to study, and 'guidance' counselors don't seem to have a clue about the best fields for finding employment. They just try to get the kids into the universities that their parents can brag about. I understand that there are some kids who know what they want at an early age and have the passion to succeed in their field despite huge competition, but I think they're a minority."

Kevin Krease came out on the other side of the argument.  He wrote on Facebook:

"College's job is not to get you ready for the workforce, it's meant to excite you about life and learning. You can learn everything you need to know to get a job in a 2 credit hour class your senior year."

Fellow Facebook fan James Melton agreed:

"College did not directly prepare me for work. But it made me a better, more well-rounded person and opened my mind to a lot of new ideas. Time well spent."

But Tyrone Thorpe didn't quite agree. He commented:

"As for me, college didn't accurately prepare me for the world of work. And with the way the workplace is evolving, how could it? However, it did stimulate my intellectual curiosity and interest as it relates to the collision of career interest, addressing the business problem and scholarly journals depicting their address."

Finally, Mimi, from Detroit, falls down firmly on the side of college being a place of self discovery:

What do you think is the purpose of college? As always, you can keep this conversation going. Leave a comment on any of the stories you’ve heard, call in to 877-8-MY-TAKE, check out our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter, and text us by sending TAKE to 69866.

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