Is University the Answer?

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For many people, yes, a university education is the answer. These are the people who always knew they wanted to be an engineer, a physician or an accountant. They spent their younger years taking the right courses all through high school. They have the aptitude and the strengths to shine in these respective careers.

What about the rest of the people?

You know, the ones who graduated with a B.A. because they were always told to get a university education. For them, going to college wasn’t even an option.

Instead, they went to university, spent thousands of dollars and came out with their degree in hand. Often enough, within a few months they’ll just march back into university to get their master’s degree. It seems like an undergraduate degree has about as much weight as a high school diploma nowadays.

Or does it?

When I did some research, I found this article – suggesting the cynics are wrong about the value of an arts degree. Okay…with an open mind I read it.

A few things stood out for me:

1)     The cynics – a loaded choice of word. Why cynics? Perhaps they are just realists?

2)     Why pay tuition for a credential you’re not sure will get you a dream job in a job market that, since 2008, is making little room for new talent? The article describes this view as sensational, like a Trump tweet, ignoring the reality of today’s multi-generational labour force.

3)     Over a 40-year career, Ontario university graduates earn $1.1-million more than grads from other post-secondary programs, says the Council of Ontario Universities. And over Canadian high-school graduates, that number rises to $1.5-million. Hmm…the Council of Ontario Universities. I wonder how truly objective that stat is? I would not want someone to think that if you go to university you are going to make 1.1 million more than other people. That stat could be considered misleading.

4)     Recent research from the Education Policy Research Initiative uses tax records to show that, 13 years on, University of Ottawa liberal arts graduates average similar earnings to math and science grads. Okay. Interesting. Ottawa’s main employer is the Public Service of Canada.  In 2012 federal government employees averaged $114,000 in pay and benefits. Ottawa U. is a bilingual university. The federal government hires bilingual people. You do the math.

5)     Today’s savvy students know all this: classes this term are full.  Of course they’re full. Parents keep telling their high school aged children how important it is for them to go to university and not college. My question is – how many of these students truly wanted to be in those classes? How many of them are there because they were not given a choice?

A degree is no longer a one-time buckling of the career tool belt. The next-generation university recognizes that learners will be back for more. No mystery why: Technology is accelerating change; knowledge becomes outdated faster.

What sticks are the general and particular skills: problem solving, cultural literacy, the ability to communicate, digesting research to see the big picture, decision making, leadership. In survey after survey, employers report seeking these skills.

Do you think he is talking about going back to school 10 or 20 years later? Or do you think he is talking about going back to school to get a master’s degree?

Okay. Employers report wanting these skills. But these are transferrable skills. Why not check the job postings for a second. Good luck trying to find cultural literacy or decision making as the main skills an employer is looking for.

Often, when a student graduates with a B.A. they really have no idea what they want to do for a career. None;  all they know is they went to school and got their B.A., just like they were told to do.

They graduate and they are terrified of their future. Then they see articles like this and they get that feeling of yay, I AM qualified to do something. I DO have some skills.

But, using the skills my B.A. apparently taught me, like critical thinking skills, I notice the author of this article is the president of a university. My spidey senses are tingling…


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