The media has been saturated lately with questions concerning the value of a college education and asking the question, “Is College for Everyone?” Well, I learned a long time ago that when a question has a word that does not allow for exceptions (e.g., always, never, everyone), the answer is typically no. I believe that is certainly the case for the question, “Is College for Everyone?” There are clearly those who are better served by learning a trade or a skill that will serve themselves and society well. I know there are many tradespeople like plumbers, electricians, and builders who probably did not go to college, but who would certainly be considered successful by measures of wealth and happiness.
So, the more relevant questions are not whether everyone should go to college, but rather who should go to college and what should a college do to best prepare its students to be productive members of society. The first question is probably the trickier of the two. While it is easy to say that those who are highly intelligent and striving to be professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, should go to college immediately, the answer is not so evident for many others. It has become standard over the past few decades for students to enter college immediately after high school graduation. Unfortunately, some of these students are not prepared to start college. While a smaller segment may not have the intellectual capability or adequate preparation (particularly in Math and English) to succeed in college, a much larger segment is not prepared in terms of motivation and intellectual curiosity. Too many students come to campus for the “college experience” as opposed to a desire to learn and start planning a career path. Therefore, many end up not finishing or taking more than six years to graduate. I think there is a solution to this (something much better than the current government initiatives such as “Complete College Georgia”), but you will have to wait for my next blog installment for that.
In the meantime, let’s address the second question of what a college should do to best prepare its students. In these difficult economic times when college costs continue to rise, more and more parents and legislators are demanding an immediate return on investment on their children’s tuition. Hence, reactions like Florida Governor Rick Scott’s call for primarily funding academic majors that lead to jobs (good news for someone like me who is an administrator in a College of Business). However, that kind of thinking, while pragmatic, is hurtful in the long run. Many of the academic majors that foster the important assets such as analytic depth and critical thinking are more difficult to tie to specific career paths. However, students with a well-rounded college education typically become our leaders in business, government, and community. I think the solution is not limiting students to “career-focused” majors, but rather stimulating their intellectual curiosity and desire to learn. How do we do that? Stay tuned … step one in the process will be presented when I visit with you again.