Is It a Degree or an Education That You Seek?
It’s been a long time since I was in undergrad, so maybe I’m a little out of touch with the reality of today and today’s college students. Today is a technological world and times are tough. People work hard to make ends meet, and many people return to college seeking better opportunities and a chance to get ahead. Others rush to college to update outdated technology skills to better compete with the new net generation. In a competitive job market where the college educated and tech literate are winning the jobs over the less educated and tech savvy, I understand the rush back to college. I get that. But I’m not sure if all students understand why exactly they are here. When I ask my students why they are in college, I rarely here a response like, “I want to learn about space,” or “I’m really interested in improving my writing skills.” I know. Who says that? Everyone wants “to get a good job,” “make good money,” “get enough credits to get to ASU, NAU or U of A,” and “get a degree.” That’s great! Those are all worthy goals, but there’s something missing for me. Don’t students want to learn anything? Don’t they want to be educated?
Earning a degree doesn’t guarantee anyone anything. Trust me, in this economy I know plenty of degreed individuals seeking meaningful employment. These people have years of experience in the workforce and yet employment somehow escapes them. Maurice Johnson is homeless with 2 master’s degrees (VIDEO). Is earning a degree enough today? No, it’s probably not, but it is a good start. But that shouldn’t be the only goal. Along with that degree students have to learn the skills and knowledge necessary to compete with often better educated, better experienced, and more seasoned individuals who are now willing to take less pay just to have a job. The key to success for students today is knowing what skills employers are looking for. Degree? Check. Educated? Check. Skilled? Check.
So what does it mean to be educated? Here is a list of the top 3 skills employers are looking for and how students in college today can learn these skills. “The one skill most often sought by employers is the ability to communicate well – to listen, write, and speak effectively” (Barnes, 2009). It’s interesting to me how many students sit in the back of the room and don’t participate in class discussions unless called upon. What faculty are trying to teach students is that by participating in class discussions, students can practice those much needed communication skills. So speak up and show those teachers that listening and speaking effectively are important to you. Don’t hide in the back of the room. Come to class prepared and participate. That is part of the education we are trying to teach.
Another sought after skill is the ability to work with others in a professional manner while achieving a common goal. This skill has become increasingly important in today’s work environment, yet in the classroom before I can get the two words (group project) out of my mouth, there are groans from my students. Very few want to work in a group. The complaints are numerous. I tell my students they should be thankful if they end up with a “dud” in their group. Think of all the valuable experience one can gain in overcoming all the obstacles. Working with people is often going to be difficult in many different situations, including the work place, so learning how to deal with those difficulties and still accomplish the goal is valuable. Sometimes all it takes is someone stepping up and taking the lead even if it might mean taking on a bit more of the workload. Be that leader.
The last skill, not to imply there are not many more necessary, is “the ability to find solutions to problems using creativity, reasoning, past experiences, available information and resources.” Demonstrating good problem solving skills can indicate how well you will lead when you are put in charge. So all those excuses about why that essay didn’t get submitted on time only demonstrates to your professor that you lack problem solving skills or initiative to get started in a timely fashion. We’ll save the latter for another time. Instead of excuses, try solutions. Be creative. Faculty have even been known to learn something from students who have taken the initiative to solve problems in the classroom. And it’s much more pleasurable to listen to creative ideas than excuses all day.
The choice is yours. Are you just seeking a degree or do you really want to be educated, to learn what it takes to be successful in today’s world? What your teachers are trying to teach you in those college courses goes beyond the subject matter of the class, which is important. But being educated doesn’t mean just answering all the questions correctly on the test. Being educated is “a demonstrated ability to listen carefully, to think critically, to evaluate facts rigorously, to reason analytically, to imagine creatively, to articulate interesting questions, to explore alternative viewpoints, to maintain intellectual curiosity and to speak and write persuasively. If we add to that a reasonable familiarity with the treasures of history, literature, theater, music, dance and art that previous civilizations have delivered, we are getting to [sic] close to the meaning of educated” (Denning, 2011). And I’ll leave you with that.