Education relevance wanted

September 1, 2011

As I briefly noted in an earlier entry, I have a history degree from a private liberal arts college.  And having been searching for work for the past six months, I am confronted every day with the limitations of my degree.  While I don’t regret the major itself, I do wonder about how my alma mater, and other prestigious schools, thought that it could turn a bunch of English and history majors loose and have them achieve gainful employment when our science and math education was so lacking.

My alma mater has reportedly beefed up the math and science graduation requirements, but the issue of a disconnection between educational standards and employer demands remains quite acute across the board.

I tend to be critical of the “career majors,” as I call them. I think that college should be about more than becoming a worker drone; it is also about being an educated, thinking citizen.  That said, the irony of my convictions has really hit home during the past six months as I have struggled to find employment.

To say that my beliefs have been challenged would be an understatement.  They have been shattered.

I no longer champion higher education that requires people to hand over the equivalent of a house mortgage for a four-year degree.  Especially if that degree isn’t welcomed by employers and if several million jobs go unfilled because they have technical requirements that many college graduates can’t meet.  I am especially critical of a higher education system that turns out graduates with onerous debt levels.  I was stunned when an artist at my last workplace was lamenting his student loans.  When he told me that his student loans exceed $80,000, I stopped breathing.  $80,000!?


(Courtesy of Stephanie Dudgeon)

I have often wondered about the either/or nature of higher education.  For example, why can’t we come up with some type of 3-to-2 program or 3-to-1 program?  Say, spend the first part of the program educating a student in a core liberal arts program, giving them long-term generalist skills, and then spend the second part of the program preparing them for a specific, technical job?

In my own case, since I am very weary of being unemployed and underemployed, I am at a crossroads.  Do I head to graduate school to obtain a degree that will lead to a profession with a future?  Or do I head to a community college and learn technical skills?

The community college is currently winning.  I have no desire to take on a debilitating amount of student loans for graduate study…and then find myself still unable to find a job.  This economic downturn taught us that nobody has been safe from job loss.

A community college program is attractive for several reasons:  Affordable tuition and a flexible, part-time schedule that will enable me to work and go to school.  And I can foresee forming a relationship with community colleges during the next 20 years in order to remain employable.

I am finished being educationally irrelevant in our economy.

Stephanie Dudgeon, a 48-year-old former project manager from Columbus, Ohio, has been unemployed for five months. Read more about her here. Read about the “Help Wanted” project here. Visit the project home page here.

Read more updates from Stephanie Dudgeon here.

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