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The purpose of Undergraduate Education

Context: Futures seminar for International Studies.

Most in the meeting argued that employees want to hire people who think critically, and that they will teach them the skills later. Undergraduate education is supposed to allow students to grow as people, develop time organization skills, to experiment and test themselves. It is not necessary to gain a vocation from a liberal education. The program must not market itself as leading to any specific job, but focus on broadening student horizons, emphasizing the limits and humility of problem solving, look at the world as a challenge not as a problem.

Liberal Education

I really had trouble agreeing with all of this. Education costs so much it must lead to a job. It is not worth spending that much money simply to grow as a person. otherwise all students could simply go to community colleges. There is a reason students go to top schools, and although that reason is supposedly to get a better education what that means is that students want to get better jobs and make money while getting a good experience. But the good experience happens anywhere, as a product of the age of the student, as a product of delayed adulthood etc… If college is to teach life skills then it should make no difference which university you go to. Employers hire students from top universities because they are supposed to be smart, because the university offsets selection costs of trial and error. Yes But also add to that, that universities are supposed to prepare students for vocations. Obviously there is a difference between doing engineering and doing English Literature, or political science, but ultimately each degree should prepare the student for the job market. The growing process and time management are nice side effects, but they are not necessary. It is irresponsible to establish this program without an eye toward what graduates will do and how they will reoup their investment. Granted this is a very capitalist way of thinking of the issue and there is a commodification of labour and of education here. But I am separating my social activist side, from the side that feels responsible to deal with the structural constraints of a capitalist system.

Liberal education is nice and dandy to talk about but it is foolish advice and guidance to leave students without vocational preparation. The idea that the MA is what prepares students for specific problem solving skills, and that we can link up to SAIS is part of the problem with degree inflation that is pushing society and labour in impossible directions which decrease vertical mobility.


Update 1:


So the case being made is that education does prepare you for the workforce, but in the way of giving you flexibility of skills for the liberal studies. I am now realizing education is not about educating at all, but about accrediting. Which is why a Harvard or JHU student has massive advantages. Not because the university is much better than a community college (which it might be) no matter how you define better, but because you rub elbows with rich people and when you come out you have networks and a paper which tells you that you are valuable. Why? Because that’s the socially implicit agreement. In any case having a degree whether liberal arts of hard sciences helps only if you get it from the right university. So the assumption that education is for training is flawed because it is for accrediting and weeding out the bad from the good, itself an unfair process.

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