Creative LeadershipEngaging Culture

Did College Really Prepare You for a Career?

There is so much news time spent on the subject of “jobs,” and yet I see a government that knows remarkably little about how jobs are actually created.  But worse – and something you don’t see discussed so much is the role of colleges and universities in training people for the real world.  Author Camille Paglia wrote on the subject in The Chronicle Review of higher education last April.  This excerpt is worth reading, and I’d love to know your response:

Jobs, and the preparation of students for them, should be front and center in the thinking of educators. The idea that college is a contemplative realm of humanistic inquiry, removed from vulgar material needs, is nonsense. The humanities have been gutted by four decades of pretentious postmodernist theory and insular identity politics. . . .

Having taught in art schools for most of my four decades in the classroom, I am used to having students who work with their hands—ceramicists, weavers, woodworkers, metal smiths, jazz drummers. There is a calm, centered, Zen-like engagement with the physical world in their lives. In contrast, I see glib, cynical, neurotic elite-school graduates roiling everywhere in journalism and the media. They have been ill-served by their trendy, word-centered educations.

Jobs, jobs, jobs: We need a sweeping revalorization of the trades. The pressuring of middle-class young people into officebound, paper-pushing jobs is cruelly shortsighted. Concrete manual skills, once gained through the master-apprentice alliance in guilds, build a secure identity. Our present educational system defers credentialing and maturity for too long. When middle-class graduates in their mid-20s are just stepping on the bottom rung of the professional career ladder, many of their working-class peers are already self-supporting and married with young children.

The elite schools, predicated on molding students into mirror images of their professors, seem divorced from any rational consideration of human happiness.

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  1. Hello “hot button”….how are YOU today?!  You’ve hit mine here.  Like many political discussions end up being Far Left vs Far Right….it seems so goes this topic.  Allow me to have a defined non-fence-sitting thought on this…but still see both angles.

    I am working, rather successully, in television without my undergrad degree.  I ended up getting paid by a local station and was learning more there than at school on MANY levels.  There are parts of the college experience I wish I could have another crack at…and handle with more maturity.  But after years of wishing I had that piece of paper, I’ve discovered it means little to me (other than NOT having loans…and the chance to teach at a college down the road). 

    Rather than ramble…I’ll sum it up by sharing the advice I give kids that ask me where to go to school for “TV”.  I tell them to look at the faculty…see who has a good mix of long-timers and local part-time adjunct profs who are actively and SUCCESSFULLY working in their concentration…and ask for a “proof of performance” from the alumni association of the school.  Who’s out there working that would give an honest evalutation of the value of their degree from that school.

    College is an expensive place to experiment.  I ended up being paid to experiment and LEARN on the job. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with that. 

  2. I think you’ve made some truly interesting points. Not too many people would actually think about this the way you just did. I’m really impressed that there’s so much about this subject that’s been uncovered and you did it so well, with so much class. Good one you, man! Really great stuff here.

  3. You might be interested to read the following article by Dr. Albert Mohler Jr. (He is currently the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and has an abiding concern for young men and their educational future. He opens with this:

    “Is our postmodern, postindustrial society simply better suited to women than to men? Hanna Rosin makes the case for this claim in the current issue of The Atlantic, and her article demands close attention. Men, she argues, are simply falling behind women in almost every sector of cultural influence and economic power. This shift, she understands, is nothing less than unprecedented in the span of human history.

    Rosin begins her article with the fact that sex-selection technologies in the West are now more often used to select a preference for girls than for boys, reversing the historical trend. Why? She explains: ‘Man has been the dominant sex since, well, the dawn of mankind. But for the first time in human history, that is changing—and with shocking speed. Cultural and economic changes always reinforce each other. And the global economy is evolving in a way that is eroding the historical preference for male children, worldwide.’

    Rosin’s article is well documented and forceful in argument. The bottom line is the claim that the trend and trajectory of the global economy have for some time now been headed toward female skills and talents. At the most basic level, this means a shift from physical strength to intellectual energies and education. At the next level, it also means a shift from leadership models more associated with males toward the nurturing leadership more associated with women. In any event, the changes are colossal.

    Nothing has brought this into clearer sight than the current global recession. In the United States, the recession has been dubbed a “he-cession,” due to the fact that three-quarters of the 8 million jobs lost were lost by men. Even more devastating to men, most of these jobs will not return, given the vast changes the recession has brought about. ‘The worst-hit industries were overwhelmingly male and deeply identified with macho: construction, manufacturing, high finance. Some of these jobs will come back,’ Rosin predicts, ‘but the overall pattern of dislocation is neither temporary nor random.'”

    Read the rest of this sobering article here:

    Here’s another article from the Wall Street Journal: “Young Womens’ Pay Exceeds Male Peers'”

    We are currently in the midst of massive social change, and if men want to earn more over the long term, they MUST go to college.

    e-Mom @ Chrysalis

  4. I often think of going back to college. I think, “Hey! If I would just get that degree I could make… less than I do now??? Nevermind…”

    And that’s why I haven’t gone back to college.

    I think the main point should be discover what you are “called” and gifted to do. Then honestly ask yourself if you really need a degree to do that. Sometimes the answer will be “yes” and sometimes “no”.

  5. After having earned three degrees at state universities in the practical media field and having taught over 20 years at both public and private universities, I believe, media education has a two-fold purpose:  to practically train students to enter the media industry capable of functioning in a continually evolving technologically-oriented environment and to have the ability to continue educating themselves by being able to always learn…in other words, learning how to learn.  Sadly, there are some institutions who do not succeed at either or both.  Those that do succeed in both areas tend to have successful graduates in all areas.

    From the personal side of things, looking at the lives of myself and four younger brothers, I can say that completed college degrees have indeed provided additional levels of success in various areas for the three who have degrees versus the two that do not.

  6. Interesting discussion. And considering the cost of a college education, certainly worthy of examination. As a professor myself, I try to continually keep the practical application of learning as a consideration in everything I introduce into the classroom. In fact, it is something I heavily consider when reviewing applications for our film school. Is this someone who I think has the potential to make a living in the competitive industry for which they will be training? If not, I think it’s irresponsible for me to take their money.

    But, if I left it at that, it would be a huge disservice to my students. I agree with much of Jack Hafer’s comments above. Ultimately, a liberal arts education has always been about educating the person, the mind. Salaries with vocational skill jobs may be commensurate – especially at entry level positions. But, over time, a liberal arts education can usually be depended upon to take a person further. There are some people that can achieve their goals without a college degree. But for most of us the discipline and structure imposed by a degree program are necessary elements to fully develop an ability to critically evaluate and contextualize our world.

  7. Sadly, Camille Paglia, if she really wrote this, is one lost puppy, as she has been for years. Yes, she is entertaining from time to time, and is a very effective communicator. But she is over-generalizing in a number of ways here. The main point is that college is not about preparation for a career. It is a way of deepening and widening one’s understanding of what a truly educated person should know. Yes, you can go to technical school or a trade school if you want an immediate job – and even that is no guarantee of employment. But the college education is much more than preparation for a job. It is preparation for life. Her focus is wrong. She is demoralized by being at postmodern schools who don’t have anything of value to teach in the humanities. But there are many great colleges who still are teaching deep and abiding truths in the humanities – Paglia has been at too many ivy-league schools. Secondly, as she says, college grads can run into those who didn’t go to college and entered the job market years before, but those people most of the time end in less-paying jobs. And the ones who didn’t go to college but are making great money are those who decided to start their own business, are entrepreneurs who knew what they wanted to do at a young age, and did it. Most college students don’t know what they want to do until their last years of college, if even then. Most college grads make much more than trade-school grads eventually, however. And on and on . . . (how many wrong things can she say in 4 paragraphs?) . . . people still need word-centered educations. Even art has no place in society apart from words of interpretation. Jackson Pollock would have been a Nothing without Clement Greenburg. The college degree is a rite of passage in our culture, which shows that the graduate has stuck with a challenging program in all its ups and downs, and has lived through it. He is now stronger and wiser and better able to adjust to whatever job field he enters. Yes, we need to perhaps teach a trade to everyone in college in addition to the humanities – I would agree with her there. But Paglia has just never been to a place where she has seen a true college education working. Sucks to be her.

  8. I’ve heard the line about college grads making a lot more money in their careers, but kinda of along with your statment, is the fact that while someone without a degree might make 20-30k a year less, someone who goes to college has the student loans to pay off. Plus, a degree is no guarentee of actually GETTING a job.

  9. I dropped out of journalism school my jr. year. I am married to a CPA with an MBA. In our 20 years of marriage, I have made 75% of the income. What is sad is what it took for him to put himself through school, trusting the lie that it would pay off.

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