ALEXANDRA ANDERSONMarch is a nerve-wracking time to be in university. It’s also a time we start thinking about the summer, jobs and real life. How unpleasant. It makes me wonder, if I can’t get a job after university, is there a point to being here? Is university too removed from real life? Is it irrelevant?
Universities are criticized for being outdated, inapplicable to the real world and fiendishly theoretical. Who cares if you know the difference between Kant and Hume? Who cares if you know all the steps and enzymes of glycolysis? Nobody, except your professor. Those criticisms are hardly new. They’re also valid.
But for large institutions, modern universities have been surprisingly agile when responding to our need for practical experience. We have internships, co-ops and laboratories to develop industry-related skills, and professors using new technologies to educate us. While we still have theory-based courses, universities are also adapting to the real-world needs of their students.
Modern universities are also criticized for being degree factories. There are too many graduates and the admission standards are too low, the line goes. This has the potential to lower the quality of our education.
But wishing universities would remain exclusively available to the upper-middle classes is an elitist perspective. People from non-traditional backgrounds can now finish university. As the size of the campus body grows, so does the diversity. What’s more educational than that?
Nevertheless, when the student population grows, it becomes more difficult to get a job and more difficult to distinguish between job candidates. University graduates oversaturate the workforce. A university diploma is now almost mandatory in the job market. This is not going to change any time soon.
But a traditional university education was never just about getting a job. It was about learning how to learn. Modern universities do this too, but they do more.
It’s up to us to use universities to prepare ourselves for our future careers. Of course, universities provide us with some necessary tools: electives, clubs, exchange programs and specializations. Through these, we can distinguish ourselves from fellow students by making good choices on how to spend our time here.
Another concern is lowered standards and the tarnished reputation of universities. If a university admits lower-achieving students, it may appear less prestigious. But the tuition those students pay helps fund the university’s student programs. We benefit from additional students.
Alternatively, though, universities could try raising their admissions standards by demanding tougher mandatory courses for each degree. They could try rejecting the lower-achieving applicants. It would not work, though. When one university rejects its students, another university will be more than willing to benefit from that mistake and fill its own lecture halls.
Education has become a business, and universities need consumers. We shouldn’t blame them for their success.
University is still relevant because it continues to attract consumers. Whether we came here for a job or to become brilliant intellectuals, we drive the machine. Modern universities reflect real life: crowded, diverse and consumer-driven. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
A university education is what you want it to be. Take responsibility. University won’t be irrelevant if you don’t let it be.
So why am I in school? I think the advertising worked. Somehow, I believe it will make me a better writer, a better speaker and a better student. While I’m sure most of what I learn won’t be used again, I’m also sure that I’ll get what I came for.
Photo: Robby Davis