Americans have always bought into the idea that education is the key to success. Historically, high school students have been told that attending a college or university is the only way to achieve their dreams.
But is this really true?
Changing trends in recent years such as out-of-date teaching methods and curriculum, the mounting epidemic of student debt, and a lack of job preparedness among graduates have caused many to choose a less traditional path.
However, the fact remains that many jobs require applicants to have a college diploma. Those without one will find the door shut on a vast number of opportunities. In addition, studies show that college graduates earn, on an average, $1100 per week, where those with only a high school diploma earn about $638.
So how can we make things better for our young people so they pursue their dreams? Is this the end of higher education as we know it, or could colleges recover again?
First, there is the very real fact that the knowledge taught in higher education institutions is quickly becoming obsolete. Changes in our world and our culture happen at breakneck speed, and it seems almost impossible for our institutions to keep running. A student with recent experience in the business world, for example, may find that much of the material from a business class is irrelevant or even just plain wrong.
To change this, college students will have to do some radical rethinking. It may be necessary for professors to maintain connections with employers in the real world to offer students knowledge of marketable skills. They also might consider offering more coursework online, rather than the traditional “lecture and exam” format.
Then, there is a student debt problem. In 2005, the average student loan debt was $17,233. In 2012, it had mounted to $27,253, representing a 58% increase in seven years. An increasing number of college graduates find that they must put their hopes and dreams on hold in order to pay off the astronomical debt.
There is no shortage of ideas out there about how to resolve the student loan crisis. One popular idea is that college tuition should be free for students, as it is in many other countries around the globe. Others point to the strong negative correlation between income and loan defaults to make the point that we need more safety nets in place for those who earn little.
But this issue is closely connected with another problem: to an alarming degree, employers find that college graduates are not coming to them prepared for the world of work. 50% of college graduates in 2012 and 2013 reported that they expected their first employer to train them on the job. But in a deep disconnect, these graduates have found that employers expect new hires to be job-ready from the very beginning.
Colleges would do well to round out their curriculum with courses that teach real-world skills such as teamwork, finance, and civics. Students also need courses in the arts to help them become more creative and innovative in their thinking.
Education is the profession that nurtures all other professions. As such, it needs to change with the changing times.
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