Time to start teaching turning degrees into jobs

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BW-lecture hall-Vaikunthe Banerjee

 

Post secondary cannot just be education for education’s sake

By Stephen Power
Photos by Vaikunthe Banerjee

ST JOHN’S (CUP) — Entering the final year of my undergraduate degree, I am thankful for the practical abilities I have been taught over these four years. I know how to write a resume and a cover letter. I know that employers generally don’t hire prospective employees that don’t bother to sell themselves. These skills, a few of many that I picked up over my academic career, will serve me for the rest of my life.

Those who boast the liberal arts point to a number of other benefits that, although intangible, allegedly serve students in becoming better citizens. Adam Chapnick, an associate professor of defence studies at the Royal Military College of Canada, argued along this line in a recent online column for University Affairs, an online magazine centered on post-secondary education.

“If only they understood that the value of a liberal education cannot just be measured in dollars and cents,” goes the traditional “lament” of liberal arts supporters, according to Chapnick. “What about the role of the arts in promoting democratic citizenship? In fostering critical thinking? In creating the entrepreneurial spirit that is so necessary for innovation?”

What about all these things, indeed. I’m proud to say that I do understand these values, having gone through a fairly broad cross-section of what the university has to offer in the liberal arts. These courses — English, history, philosophy, political science — all did well to tutor me on these subjects.

Critical thinking? No problem — I can crank out literary criticism without breaking a sweat. Democratic citizenship? I can talk for hours (to anyone foolish enough to listen) about the myriad of flaws infesting our current system of governance, on all levels.
I’m not attacking the value of these skills; Chapnick has a point in his mention of the development of an “entrepreneurial spirit.” Students are done a disservice, however, when these skills are not coupled with the knowledge necessary to apply them outside of academia.

It is here that the reality of the needs of students comes up against the values of academics that value learning for the sake of learning. Most students, and even most liberal arts students, envision some sort of job or other kind of employment existing at the end of the post-secondary rainbow. Many of these students, however, are ill informed as to how valuable their Bachelor of Arts really is, especially when it isn’t supplemented with volunteer and other extra-curricular work.

These students need to be taught early, and the best place to do so is where they spend most of their time interacting face-to-face with university employees: the classroom. More connections need to be made between course curricula and extra-curriculum resources that provide hands-on learning experiences and opportunities to network with employers in a student’s field.

To make this possible, academia needs to change to meet the needs of the students that it serves. Professors and university administrators can no longer prioritize the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. This desire, however noble, must be balanced with the need to help students build opportunities for themselves when they graduate into the real world.

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