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The Purpose of College

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The Purpose of College

The New York Times published this article entitled "Vocation or Exploration? Pondering the Purpose of College" back in 2012. It's an issue I've been thinking about lately and I'm curious to know what you guys think about it, especially those who are currently enrolled or those who have children at FAU.

What do you expect to get out of your college education? What makes it "worth it" for you? Is the only benchmark of success whether or not you get a "good" job afterward?

During the first two years FAU, like most universities, wants you to take a broad selection of classes. Some of them apply to your major and you think these are "worth it" because they're building blocks for later classes. Other classes, like Appreciation of Theater, often make people roll their eyes and get irritated that they're "paying for something I don't need or care about."

Personally I enjoyed a lot of my "off the beaten path" classes during undergrad and I also side with the old school notion of what a university should be - about creating educated citizens. But the linked article here mentions how "Before 1983, receiving a bachelor of arts degree in just about any subject 'opened up lots of jobs,' said Anthony P. Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. 'You could get a B.A. in history and become an accountant. Then the economy underwent a cultural shift.'” Now most people are wondering if they need to get a Master's in a specific field to even have a shot at a job that pays well.

A number of college graduates can't even get jobs right now. According to this NPR article, "as many as 53 percent of people under the age of 25 with bachelor’s degrees are unemployed or underemployed — and they’re taking jobs traditionally occupied by high school graduates."

I wonder if we'll hit a tipping point where the nation will say, "Look, the ever-rising cost of a college tuition just isn't worth it right now" (especially at a place like FAU where people are taking 5+ years to graduate with a 4 year degree) and students will migrate toward vocational schools which are shorter and give them hands-on training in a specific job like mechanic or radiology tech. If that was a nationwide movement we might have to reconsider trimming four year degrees down to three years and just give them what they need for a specific major. That might be an interesting idea, though it'd likely insult a lot of academics who'd say we were short-changing our youth.

P.S. I don't respond to guest posts. All guests are encouraged to register with the site.
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Re: The Purpose of College

The article represents some thoughts that I've had for a while now.  I did not have the "traditional" college experience at FAU since I got my A.A. at a community college and transferred to FAU as an upperclassman.  I took care of most of my elective classes at the CC, with the exception of a couple upper level electives I had to take at the university.  Sure, I missed out on some things socially, and I probably didn't get the best humanities and arts classes at the CC, but to me, my goal of going to college was to get a bachelors degree in marine biology, and that's what I focused on.  I think it is good to have some of those additional classes, it gives you some additional knowledge, but I'm also glad that I took care of those at the "discounted" rate.

I loved my experience and I accomplished what I set out to do, so I'm satisfied.  However, I'd have no problem sending my kid to a technical school or a short degree program if that is what they want to do.

To answer the title question, I think the purpose of college is to teach you "how" to think, not necessarily "what" to think.

FAU - We got Bowls!
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Re: The Purpose of College

Owl2Doc said

The New York Times published this article entitled "Vocation or Exploration? Pondering the Purpose of College" back in 2012. It's an issue I've been thinking about lately and I'm curious to know what you guys think about it, especially those who are currently enrolled or those who have children at FAU.

What do you expect to get out of your college education? What makes it "worth it" for you? Is the only benchmark of success whether or not you get a "good" job afterward?


During the first two years FAU, like most universities, wants you to take a broad selection of classes. Some of them apply to your major and you think these are "worth it" because they're building blocks for later classes. Other classes, like Appreciation of Theater, often make people roll their eyes and get irritated that they're "paying for something I don't need or care about."

Personally I enjoyed a lot of my "off the beaten path" classes during undergrad and I also side with the old school notion of what a university should be - about creating educated citizens. But the linked article here mentions how "Before 1983, receiving a bachelor of arts degree in just about any subject 'opened up lots of jobs,' said Anthony P. Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. 'You could get a B.A. in history and become an accountant. Then the economy underwent a cultural shift.'” Now most people are wondering if they need to get a Master's in a specific field to even have a shot at a job that pays well.

A number of college graduates can't even get jobs right now. According to this NPR article, "as many as 53 percent of people under the age of 25 with bachelor’s degrees are unemployed or underemployed — and they’re taking jobs traditionally occupied by high school graduates."

I wonder if we'll hit a tipping point where the nation will say, "Look, the ever-rising cost of a college tuition just isn't worth it right now" (especially at a place like FAU where people are taking 5+ years to graduate with a 4 year degree) and students will migrate toward vocational schools which are shorter and give them hands-on training in a specific job like mechanic or radiology tech. If that was a nationwide movement we might have to reconsider trimming four year degrees down to three years and just give them what they need for a specific major. That might be an interesting idea, though it'd likely insult a lot of academics who'd say we were short-changing our youth.

The market is saturated with college graduates. In addition, there are a lot of college graduates who have acquired a theoretical education while lacking practical hands-on experience. The problem with universities are they are turning out too many college graduates who lacks practical experience. Majority of employers prefer a candidate with a college degree, but highly favors a candidate who have practical experience tied to that degree.

I am not a big advocate of spending money on courses that are irrelevant to your major. I think colleges should reduce the "off the beaten path" courses to one year and foster more practical experiences in the learning environment at the undergraduate level. One way colleges can accomplish this is to have a more stringent requirement for admission. Algebra, College Writing and Foreign languages should have been courses taught and skills obtained at the high school level and not required at a college level. Students failing to meet these basic requirements should be relegated to community colleges and vocational schools.

Another problem with our society, in which I will not get into too much detail, is way too much emphasis on athletic sports. The emphasis on sports is prevalent at all educational levels in our country from elementary to college. I think the norm in our county prioritizes sports over education. I would love to see a study comparing the time and monies invested by parents, public schools and universities in sports vs. education for kids.
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Re: The Purpose of College

duder, I agree with what you said, particularly the final point.

OwlNation, I agree that college students too often lack practical experience and that hurts their chances at becoming employed. FAU's diplomats need to work harder on forging connections with businesses to open up more internship opportunities for our students. We need to institute journal reviews and basic research courses as heavily-recommended options in their senior year.

OWLNATION said

I think the norm in our county is prioritizing sports over education. I would love to see a study comparing the time and monies parents, public schools and universities invest in sports vs. education for kids.

That's a very common sentiment, even among the media. I don't know what it is at all other schools but I can help you out regarding FAU.

According to this, FAU's 2012-2013 Operating Budget is $638,163,598. That's everything we're working with.

The Educational and General Budget slice of that pie was $238,728,591 (or 37.41%)

The Athletics Budget was $17,556,053 (or 2.75%)

So on an annual basis what we spend on Education versus what we spend on Athletics is nowhere even remotely close.

The slice for "what we spend on a student's education" grows even larger if you consider the Student Financial Aid Budget (which helps them attend at all). It was $193,986,305. Together 238,728,591 + 193,986,305 = $432,714,896 (or 67.81%), which furthers the divide between what we spend on the two.

Another way of thinking about it - since so many people complain about what we've spent on the football stadium - is to think about it in terms of facilities. Yes, our investment into the football stadium is around $70M. In addition, we've probably spent about $20M on the Burrow (original cost plus renovations), $3M on the baseball and softball stadiums, $5M? on the swimming center and another $10-15M on the Tom Oxley and soccer fields, so let's be very generous and say we spent $150M on all sports facilities overall… compare that to how many academic buildings (not even including the dorms) we have on campus at $30M+ a pop. The new Engineering building cost $43M.

And then think about how many educational buildings we've constructed across the various campuses. Point is, either way you think about it, what we've spent on athletics vs what we've spent on student education is minimal.

P.S. I don't respond to guest posts. All guests are encouraged to register with the site.
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Re: The Purpose of College

Owl2Doc said

duder, I agree with what you said, particularly the final point.

OwlNation, I agree that college students too often lack practical experience and that hurts their chances at becoming employed. FAU's diplomats need to work harder on forging connections with businesses to open up more internship opportunities for our students. We need to institute journal reviews and basic research courses as heavily-recommended options in their senior year.

OWLNATION said

I think the norm in our county is prioritizing sports over education. I would love to see a study comparing the time and monies parents, public schools and universities invest in sports vs. education for kids.

That's a very common sentiment, even among the media. I don't know what it is at all other schools but I can help you out regarding FAU.

According to this, FAU's 2012-2013 Operating Budget is $638,163,598. That's everything we're working with.

The Educational and General Budget slice of that pie was $238,728,591 (or 37.41%)

The Athletics Budget was $17,556,053 (or 2.75%)

So on an annual basis what we spend on Education versus what we spend on Athletics is nowhere even remotely close.

The slice for "what we spend on a student's education" grows even larger if you consider the Student Financial Aid Budget (which helps them attend at all). It was $193,986,305. Together 238,728,591 + 193,986,305 = $432,714,896 (or 67.81%), which furthers the divide between what we spend on the two.

Another way of thinking about it - since so many people complain about what we've spent on the football stadium - is to think about it in terms of facilities. Yes, our investment into the football stadium is around $70M. In addition, we've probably spent about $20M on the Burrow (original cost plus renovations), $3M on the baseball and softball stadiums, $5M? on the swimming center and another $10-15M on the Tom Oxley and soccer fields, so let's be very generous and say we spent $150M on all sports facilities overall… compare that to how many academic buildings (not even including the dorms) we have on campus at $30M+ a pop. The new Engineering building cost $43M.

And then think about how many educational buildings we've constructed across the various campuses. Point is, either way you think about it, what we've spent on athletics vs what we've spent on student education is minimal.

Going on the point Owl2Doc made is true, but take a look at schools like Alabama, Ohio State, Florida, heck even small schools like Boise State. Successful Athletics programs such as a school like Alabama wants to bring students, who are not athletes,  for the chance to see a National Championship team, gets the alumi base excited which brings in the extra funds to build and repair/renovate buildings on the campus. I mean Colin Cowherd talked about that.
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