Friday, April 2, 2010

The System is Down

"If life's really as short as they say, then why is the path so long?" M. Ward

A brilliant poet, M. Ward, and a valid question as well. I entitled this blog "The System is Down" because it addresses some of the of the final issues in the collegiate portion of this blog. First, the collegiate system, as we have established in previous posts, is failing. Why has it failed us? Well like any antiquated piece of machinery that isn't kept up to par, it starts to deteriorate and the holes start to show. Yes, antiquated academia has ailed us, and failed us, but I like to think there is still hope. I know it may have seemed that I am here as simply a whiny, dissenting voice. I am here, however, to instill that hope. I have some solutions to the problem. But until I get to them, let's review what we have learned so far.

As you may recall, we learned that a lot of the "success" of students comes from an early, and in some ways, premature relationship with professors. Now I know that most people read that and immediately their thinking goes south. I am not suggesting that everyone who succeeds does so because of an inappropriate relationship with their professors, although that has been the case for quite some time; let's be realistic. However, being on a friendly basis with your professors, when you are 18, 19 years old, can seem disingenuous, and feel like kissing up, but it works. I haven't exactly addressed why that is, but I will in a future blog dealing with the student/teacher dynamic. It seems that if you want anyone to perform their job appropriately, and act logically, kissing up is the only option you have. You can make a stink, but it has to be a pretty big stink. I have been told on more than one occasion that I should have sued the college I graduated from for what they put me through. I am not that kind of person. Some said I just didn't keep my mouth shut, and didn't suck up enough. Oh well, I'm not going to lose sleep over that.

We also learned that the average college student's career is dictated by the school's requirements. You may be in a "liberal" school of learning, but they still insist that you have at least a basic understanding of certain concepts regardless of what your Major is or if they even apply. We know these now as our old "friends" the GEN ED requirements. The concept of being well-rounded thinker is completely understandable in some respects. You really shouldn't give a degree to someone who can't add and subtract or write a full sentence, even though in some instances that is discriminatory. But the system of grooming "well-rounded" learners, which is hardly the case still causes many problems. 1)The schools do not always offer what they ask, no, INSIST you take. That does not bode well for completion of degree. 2)Some people are able, because of the ass-kissing, to squeak around the previous problem, is that fair to everyone else? Those people save money and others lose out? 3)Some people drop-out before their senior year as a result of the undue stress and confusion about the difficulty. The numbers are there, 33%, otherwise known as less than half, graduate. So the other 67% are too stupid? I think not. They got in, didn't they? C'mon now.

As intelligent readers and thinkers we know now, thanks to some valuable sources, that these schools do not care whether or not their graduation numbers are down, even though they pretend to. Schools only care about recruitment numbers, those are the numbers that get them funding. As a result, schools really only care about what is beneficial to the finances of the school and not what is beneficial or convenient for you. Especially if their numbers are high enough to do without you. And they will do without you.

So what are the solutions?

Well, maybe colleges should start caring about it's students again. That would be a start. But in a world with an economic crisis, I don't see that happening any time soon. Maybe we should start with something small. A simple change in format.

I think the collegiate system should do away with "required" GEN EDS. For the first two years make everyone a liberal arts major. Let them take whatever classes they want. Colleges are attempting to groom young people into adults right? So give them the option to make their own choices. I did this for myself somewhat when I changed my major from Communications to Liberal Arts. I had already gotten some of my requirements out of the way which is when I discovered many majors have mostly but not all of the same requirements. Still, it promoted growth and success in a way that my previous major did not.

To find out more check out this link, and I will post some of the examples here.

1)Self-Designed Major Program
The Self-Designed Major Program offers opportunities for self-directed students to arrange the courses offered by the University of Southern Maine in a way ...

File Format: Microsoft Word - View as HTML
The General Management: Self-Designed major is intended for students who wish to develop an area of expertise outside of the major programs offered by the -

I like this idea of self-design. I think this is the best option available, but there is always room for improvement.

Now what I find interesting are some of the responses the OP received, which were little bit snarky in my opinion, to say the least.

Especially this statement:

"The purpose of an education is to receive one. All facets are important, otherwise we would only have technical schools."

Once again I pose the question, if all facets are important, then why do we have the distinction of major? Quit talking in circles, that's what I say.

And this statement:

"Oh dear. Do not make your own degree. That will not be worth anything to anyone, unfortunately, or very few people anyway. then you won't graduate. you need to take required courses in order to graduate. without degree, you can't get a job."

Why can't someone have a BA degree after taking a certain number of credits? That's ridiculous. And yes, you CAN get a job withOUT a degree, just ask all the unemployed college graduates making less money than their "less-educated" peers.

And the tongue in cheek response about taking a double major:

"...since you will be going for a bachelor's degree, there are plenty of courses that not only they allow you to take.....but you are required to take several courses that have nothing to do with your major. they do this to make you a well rounded learner. plus its a good way for them to get more money out of you, lol."

How is this a solution? Sounds to me like a symptom of a problem.

My sister also suggested that colleges should just give you the list of classes you will take each semester leaving no room for error. Completely mapping out your four years, and then if there is a mistake made the student cannot be held responsible.
But are you seeing the trend here? This is like the itinerary, and it lets those useless advisors keep their jobs. But, I think that with any pencil-pushing there is always room for error, and I don't think schools would be open to this idea. As I said they would have to claim full responsibility for any mistakes. I don't see that happening.

Another and final suggestion I would make would be to do away with stringent course requirements entirely. Not just getting rid of GEN EDS, but all required classes. This would, I think be another really easy change. Just set the requirement to be a certain amount of credit hours, and let them be filled however the student chooses. No forms to fill out, nothing to be approved. Just "take 125 credits and you have your degree".

You may remember from previous posts that by graduation I had completed 129/125 credit hours, but I was not allowed to graduate "on time" because I was "missing" the "correct" class requirements. Not five of the wrong classes, but one measly lower level French class. This one meaningless, pointless class was standing inbetween my well-rounded, well-educated 26-year-old self, and my degree. This is hooey. Are you with me?

Colleges shoot themselves in the foot completely, and do things that do not make sense. Sometimes extracurricular activities make credit hours available. Sometimes these credits go completely to waste because they are not a required part of the student's major. I say if a student is willing to pay for a class, make it count.
If all they care about is my money, take the money, and give me my credits. They feel that's a fair trade on their end, so make it fair!

Taking college classes should be like shopping at the supermarket.
In a way it's the same, you wouldn't go to the frozen food section first, you would go there last. Alright, fine. Let's pretend your GEN EDs are your canned goods, your dry foods, and your major is frozen pizza and your senior year is the carton of eggs and bread. But you can definitely get your chips and cereal at the same time, and you can't NOT get cereal if they are out of chips. You are getting enough food to sustain yourself on. You can live without chips. You have cereal under your belt. What if you already have cereal at home, why would you need to buy more cereal? They wouldn't not let you leave the store if you don't buy cereal. You can buy whatever you want, as long as you pay for it. And no need to make special friends with the produce guy. I mean he is hot, but you are really hungry and don't have time to talk. Are any of you still with me?

The next post about "Planning Ahead" will just be a silly, but somewhat serious collection of questionnaires, to give people an idea of how to plan ahead and what is in store for them. It may also be fun for people who already went through it. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say.

The final post will be a collection of interviews I had taken of college students and recent graduates and their experiences. If you don't take it from me, take it from them.

Stay Tuned.

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