Why has undergraduate college education in the US become vocational?

  • HotCoach

    Posts: 247

    Aug 18, 2009 10:46 PM GMT
    Why is the most important goal of college education to get a job? Why has becoming a well rounded person who is in the end more desirable looked down upon.
    Save the emphasis on one subject area for graduate school. In the meanwhile broaden your horizons, make yourself deeper, and learn how to carry on a decent interesting conversation on subjects other than your job and/or how much money you make.
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    Aug 19, 2009 12:39 AM GMT
    Why do people generalize about a nationwide system involving thousands of universities? Why do they extrapolate that their personal opinion of the condition of these universities is factual beyond debate?

    I don't know what makes you believe this, but my college experience was a very well rounded liberal arts education. I laugh at the notion that universities are anything like vocational school... unless you go to ITT Tech or something.
  • styrgan

    Posts: 2017

    Aug 19, 2009 12:49 AM GMT
    Global_Citizen saidWhy do people generalize about a nationwide system involving thousands of universities? Why do they extrapolate that their personal opinion of the condition of these universities is factual beyond debate?


    Really, you must read some Emerson.
  • Anto

    Posts: 2035

    Aug 19, 2009 12:55 AM GMT
    Why is the most important goal of college education to get a job? Why has becoming a well rounded person who is in the end more desirable looked down upon.

    Because it's too expensive to pay for classes that have nothing to do with the actual major. I think if people want to pay for more 'offtopic' classes, that's great, but it should be a choice not a requirement. Some degree requirements also require a lot of classes just for the focus of the degree itself even more so than other types of degrees. Also classes can be really crowded and the course requirements pretty hardcore requiring a good deal of focus on it.
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    Aug 19, 2009 1:23 AM GMT
    Hmm.. All that time, money, and effort spent in college just so you can carry on an interesting conversation? Most people can do that just from reading the newspaper everyday.

    Sadly, blue collar jobs aren't as plentiful as they used to be. In this day and age, you need a college degree to even get your foot in the door for an entry level job. Even police and fire departments are starting to give preference for applicants with college degrees. High school diplomas just don't cut it anymore. So yes, college has become vocational in a way. But I don't think it has anything to do with making yourself "deeper". That's really up to the individual, regardless of their educational background.
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    Aug 19, 2009 1:51 AM GMT

    Hum.............

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    Aug 19, 2009 2:12 AM GMT
    great questions. The truth is that the marketplace for higher education has been heading in the direction of vocationalization for decades. Truth is, though, since even before the days of Land Grant Universities started in the mid-1800s, colleges have been vocational in nature. You could graduate with a farm machinery degree back then at some places, for example.

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    Aug 19, 2009 1:06 PM GMT
    HotCoach said Why is the most important goal of college education to get a job? Why has becoming a well rounded person who is in the end more desirable looked down upon.

    Well, as education is a key in work productivity (smarter people make better workers), it stands to reason that any sort of education is indeed vocational. The point of the education isn't to simply know things, but to be able to use your knowledge in the outside world. As such, an undergraduate degree is simply a certificate stating that you've transitioned into adulthood and are a thinking (and possibly rational.... I leave that one open for debate) adult. Therefore, you're more employable than Cletus the Slack Jawed Yokel who's been working at the 7-11 since he got his GED. I mean, am I supposed to have an intimate understanding of particle physics after getting my BS in Physics? No. That's what your post-graduate education is for. All your bachelor's simply states is that you have received education in many topics, specializing in (your major). That's the way the system is designed to and mostly does work.

    However, I agree in theory. I took a bunch of classes I didn't need to take simply because I wanted to take them. Some of my friends on the other hand, never got to experience the joy of Intro to Underwater Basket Weaving or Napping 101. They were focussed only on completing their studies to get their degree to get jobs. I guess I can understand, I was so ready to be done by the time I actually was done with college, but it's kind of a necessary evil if you want to earn a sustainable income.
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    Aug 19, 2009 1:24 PM GMT
    HotCoach said Why is the most important goal of college education to get a job? Why has becoming a well rounded person who is in the end more desirable looked down upon.
    Save the emphasis on one subject area for graduate school. In the meanwhile broaden your horizons, make yourself deeper, and learn how to carry on a decent interesting conversation on subjects other than your job and/or how much money you make.

    Until the mid-20th century college was more or less the exclusive preserve of students from upper-class families. Their resources permitted the luxury of an education designed to produce well-rounded ladies and gentlemen. What made them "well-rounded" was really more ornamental than practical. They had to be capable of carrying on intelligent conversation at a cocktail party, dropping the major literary and artistic names when appropriate, and ordering dinner at a French restaurant without embarrassing mistakes.
    As society evolves in a technocratic direction there is less scope for decorative generalists. Those of us who had the benefits of the traditional liberal arts education may lament the passing of the days when you got to discuss Yeats and T.S. Eliot with the Junior Fellows over sherry in the Common Room. But welcome to the 21st century.
  • MSUBioNerd

    Posts: 1813

    Aug 19, 2009 1:47 PM GMT
    Beyond the very good point already made of this being a gross overgeneralization for which you've supplied no supporting facts, do you really understand the difference in cost of college these days as opposed to in the past?

    This table shows the increase in college costs from 1959-1960 to 1994-1995. In inflation-adjusted dollars (pegged as 1994-1995 dollars), public colleges went from $4146 a year to $6674 per year; private schools went from $7730 a year to $16,645 per year--well over 40% of median family income at the time. Things have only gotten more expensive since then. This chart shows increases in cost of living, medical costs, and higher education since 1978. Since 1993, which is about the end of the previous table, cost of living has cone up by less than 150%; higher education has gone up by just shy of 250%. Undergraduate education costs way more than it used to.

    Further, far more people are going to college; it's no longer primarily the domain of the rich. Merely having a college diploma does not make an individual stand out as much as it used to. As such, it's perfectly logical that individuals with college diplomas are in stiffer competition with each other for good jobs to pay for that education. At the average corporation, if you've got two individuals applying for a job, are you going to prefer the one with a degree in Art History, or the one with a degree in Economics?

    And, finally: in many subject areas, waiting to specialize in a subject area until graduate school is really kind of too late. If you want to go get a graduate degree in math, you'd better have studied math, or at the very least physics or computer science or economics as an undergraduate, or else you will not have the necessary foundation to build a graduate education. In subjects that are highly vertical (math, physics, chemistry, biology, essentially all engineering, etc), there are long chains of prerequisite courses for a very good reason. You can learn about the history of 18th century Europe and 16th century China in either order; you need General Chemistry and Analytical Chemistry first if you're going to try to understand Physical Chemistry. Early specialization can be essential in order to even be able to deal with a subject later on.
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    Aug 21, 2009 5:00 AM GMT
    From day one... at least at my college, we are guided through specific programs of study centered around "majors."

    Yes there are core requirements. Yes I have taken non-science courses (I'm a science double major). But these classes aren't taken seriously by the majority of students.

    We even have two GPAs... Oervall and Science based. Student s care more about the science based GPA at my school... which is known for its science majors.

    English majors have trouble understanding why math is important. Science majore have a hard time understanding why literature is important. Businees majors have a hard time understanding why science is important. Etc.

    Rather than thinking broadly about an issue, student are taught tio think in ways predetewrmined by theire major.

    Undergrad should be teaching mainly one thing: How to think critically, responsibly and respond to issues and questions in a evidence-based, unbiased and open-minded way. This type of base would then be helpful later in grad school.
  • kietkat

    Posts: 342

    Aug 21, 2009 5:19 AM GMT
    cjcartist1984 saidFrom day one... at least at my college, we are guided through specific programs of study centered around "majors."

    Yes there are core requirements. Yes I have taken non-science courses (I'm a science double major). But these classes aren't taken seriously by the majority of students.

    We even have two GPAs... Oervall and Science based. Student s care more about the science based GPA at my school... which is known for its science majors.

    English majors have trouble understanding why math is important. Science majore have a hard time understanding why literature is important. Businees majors have a hard time understanding why science is important. Etc.

    Rather than thinking broadly about an issue, student are taught tio think in ways predetewrmined by theire major.

    Undergrad should be teaching mainly one thing: How to think critically, responsibly and respond to issues and questions in a evidence-based, unbiased and open-minded way. This type of base would then be helpful later in grad school.


    I disagree ... science majors understand why literature is important they just focus more of their attention on the science-related courses. Whereas other majors could give a s**t about science/math (mostly because they can barely do it lol) . This has been my experience with friends and such.

    But I do agree students should be thinking critically since all majors will eventually have to take the GRE for graduate education so it's back to math, literature, reading comprehension, and critical reasoning.
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    Aug 21, 2009 5:25 AM GMT
    Yeah, and the only people getting paid to hold interesting conversations are communications majors... but then again, that would be their field of study.

    An interesting conversation is purely subjective too. What I find interesting and what you find interesting may differ on many levels.

    There are such things as stupid questions, despite what elementary school teachers like to preach.
  • jlly_rnchr

    Posts: 1759

    Aug 21, 2009 6:13 AM GMT
    I went to a state school majoring in Microbiology. And I was required to take a ton of classes that were major-related. But I was required to take lots of credits in my first two years that were totally off topic (I believe they were called core classes). A couple arts, a couple histories, a couple randoms. And then your schedule opens up and you fit in a few fun ones.

    So, for example, I took Greek and Roman Mythology, Biblical History and Culture, Sociology of Deviance, and Ethnomusicology, but also Recombinant DNA Lab, Microbial Pathogenesis, Microbial Genetics, and General Virology. And Advanced Jogging for fun. I didn't favor one type of class over the other; I slept through and skipped classes in an unbiased manner. To be honest, there's so much repetition in your science classes (start codon, start codon, START CODON, every semester) that the off-topic ones were usually more enjoyable and stimulating.

    If you go to the right school, they'll force you to broaden your horizons and teach you your trade just with their degree requirements.

    Now, if it seems like people are coming out of undergrad with employment on their mind, it's because most colleges now shove Resume Workshops, Career Center Seminars, Internship credits, and Interview Tutorials down your throat at every turn. You will feel like a slacker if you don't have something lined up right after graduation. The colleges encourage this way of thinking towards the end of your four years like it's all that matters.
  • jlly_rnchr

    Posts: 1759

    Aug 21, 2009 6:57 AM GMT
    jprichva said
    jlly_rnchr said Now, if it seems like people are coming out of undergrad with employment on their mind, it's because most colleges now shove Resume Workshops, Career Center Seminars, Internship credits, and Interview Tutorials down your throat at every turn. You will feel like a slacker if you don't have something lined up right after graduation. The colleges encourage this way of thinking towards the end of your four years like it's all that matters.

    Well, in my day (said the reminiscing old coot), no one seemed to care much about getting a job after graduation; it was simply assumed that one would make itself available. We took whatever courses seemed amusing at the time, and the only ones really working very hard were the pre-med students, since the grades were so important for them. Business schools in those days were easy to get into; no one wanted to be there. A friend of mine transferred into the Business School after her first two years, with a 2.5 GPA. This was 1975, long before the Cult Of Business had taken hold in the Reagan years. We still thought of ourselves in terms of the recently-departed sixties. I spent my college years working at the school newspaper----no, sort of living there, really. I often slept at my desk there, went to class, studied there, wrote, edited, and then stopped back at the dorm just to shower and change clothes.

    That all changed in the 80s, I think.


    That kind of laid back atmosphere would have been much more preferable. College was great fun, but at times it was way too stressful.
  • 24hourguy

    Posts: 364

    Aug 24, 2009 1:11 AM GMT
    HotCoach said Why is the most important goal of college education to get a job? Why has becoming a well rounded person who is in the end more desirable looked down upon.


    Have you seen the kind of debt that people are undertaking just to get a Bachelor's Degree? They need good jobs/income to be able to pay that back! From my own experience, I have to admit that I was bitterly disappointed when I first graduated from college and realized that the same shitty jobs that chased me back to school in the first place, (waiting tables, call center, retail, bank-teller) were still all that I was qualified for! What a rip! I'm just grateful that I didn't have $30,000+ in student loans breathing down my neck! I have yet to earn anything that looks like a college-graduate's income. Was it worth it? I don't know....I'm glad I can brag about it (I guess) but I was kind of sold on the idea that a college education was supposed to get you a bigger piece of the pie. (12 years later and it still can make me this mad ....how embarrassing! icon_redface.gif)

    I ended up going back to get vocational training a couple years ago and am much more optimistic about my future now that I have a tangible skill that I can actually earn a living from...-anybody need a haircut? lol icon_wink.gif
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    Aug 24, 2009 1:29 AM GMT
    jlly_rnchr said I was required to take lots of credits in my first two years that were totally off topic (I believe they were called core classes). A couple arts, a couple histories, a couple randoms. And then your schedule opens up and you fit in a few fun ones.
    So, for example, I took Greek and Roman Mythology, Biblical History and Culture, Sociology of Deviance, and Ethnomusicology, And Advanced Jogging for fun.

    People need to learn something related to making a living. That said, distribution requirements will enrich your life in unexpected ways. The college courses I still remember mostly fondly are the ones having the least to to with my actual major in English: the German literature survey; the History of the Byzantine Empire, and Realpolitik in the Age of Bismarck (taught by a visiting professor from West Point). All have become lifelong interests.
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    Aug 24, 2009 1:34 AM GMT
    Your education is what you have left when you have forgotten everything you learnt at school.

    /edit... I was thinking of this

    "Education is what survives when what has been learnt has been forgotten."

    * B. F. Skinner

    and this

    ""Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything one learned in school."

    * Albert Einstein

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    Aug 24, 2009 1:51 AM GMT
    I think a better question is- why does anyone think being well-rounded makes you functional? I have 4 years of a liberal arts education and i can say that i know ABSOLUTELY NOTHING MORE about the world and its actual workings than if i had been just working for the last four years...

    Why has a college education become necessary to find decent work? It doesn't help you function, there are no classes called "Filling out the most complicated supply order form on the planet" or "What to do when your boss decides layoffs are the only way to fix the budget".

    College doesnt get you READY for anything, Its some stupid dream that America decided was necessary to fill some mundane desire to have everyone semi-literate in the arts of god-knows-where and informed about the chemical reactions necessary for the creation of a bomb while ignoring the fact that every degree in the damn place is theoretical at best.