Written by Dustin Jorgensen
Education has been commodified and turned into a product like everything else. Post-secondary institutions force students to take more credits than needed for their major in the form of electives. It has gotten to the point that we can argue for eliminating Writing, Quantitative, and Breadth (WQB) electives from SFU. What bigger questions does this raise?
CBC Marketplace recently did a story on fake degrees that uncovered working professionals and politicians who bought fake credentials from online universities. They uncovered a counsellor who held his job for nearly a decade using his fake degree and a computer science lecturer who taught at the University of Toronto and Ryerson using a fake PhD. Pay a few hundred or so and you can have your fake degree too.
If this lecturer and counsellor can hold their jobs without going through the proper education, then what is the point of education in the first place? WQB electives are often taken as GPA boosters and are usually unrelated to the future jobs or careers we’ll have. Students also just take whatever classes they can get into because they want to graduate on time. According to the SFU’s Fall 2017 Undergraduate Student Survey, the most cited reason for us not completing our degrees on time is course availability issues.
It’s hard to not feel like the university is milking more tuition dollars out of our pockets and pushing us into even more student debt. Sure, WQB courses help some students explore and find interests they never knew they had, but it doesn’t take much imagination to picture getting a degree without any of these electives. Would an employer differentiate between a typical four-year degree or a three-year “essentials only” degree? They’re “unneeded” from a job perspective. This is all part of society’s assumptions about degrees and education: we value degrees for the employment to which they’ll lead.
It’s simple. Education has been commodified and transformed into a product like anything else. A degree is primarily valued by comparing the cost and time put in for the wage and the opportunities the degree enables you to have. This is why people are talking up going into trades and downtalking going to university. This is why engineering and computer science majors make snide remarks about Starbucks or flipping burgers to humanities and psychology majors.
But, remember: both an alleged computer science major and a supposed psychology major bought fake degrees and held their jobs.
If SFU dropped the WQB electives, it would save students from what appears to be unnecessary courses and tuition costs, which would make the program seem more ‘worth it.’
BuzzFeed should run an episode comparing different degrees — fake versus real — at “drastically different price points.” No wonder people are buying fake degrees and turning that into a billion dollar worldwide industry: it’s just more worth it to buy a much cheaper fake degree than actually go through the usual process.
Let’s get specific. What could a SFU education without WQB requirements look like? If SFU dropped the WQB requirements for graduation, it would get rid of approximately 8–12 courses. To be fair, keep in mind that some courses, such as PHIL120W, can count as both a Writing and a Breadth elective. Meanwhile, some majors, like the Bachelor of Arts in Health Sciences, have their upper-division writing elective built into the degree (HSCI 319W.) Nonetheless, this would save SFU students two to four full-time semesters of time and tuition. More than $5,000 of tuition fees would be spared.
Another possibility to explore could be if SFU were to eliminate a year of electives, but make a year of co-op or a similar program mandatory. This would keep the length of the degree, but make SFU students more employable, therefore making the degree more attractive to both employers and prospective students. In the Fall 2017 Undergraduate Student Survey, 75% of surveyed SFU students claimed that they felt it was important to be involved in co-op, internships, or practicum experiences, while only 24% of surveyed students had actually taken part.
To some, WQB requirements are quite useful and may spur new interests and career choices. Others would rather only take the courses required for their major and get the hell out. As a whole, we should be focusing on what education is for and can be changed into — to benefit society as a whole — rather than being stuck arguing over whether or not to strip education down to the barebone essentials to benefit individual consumers.