College has many purposes, not the least of which is training students to be experts in a certain field such that they can go out, spread their wings, and find gainful employment (with healthcare!).
But college's most important role? Teaching our kids to think. Turning our "kids" into socially aware citizens capable of making a difference in the world. This, I challenge you to consider, is far more important than any pay check they will ever earn (but let's be real: that's pretty gosh darn important too, especially when you get that bill for teen-driver auto insurance, right?)
In the wake of the Great Recession, I've seen a flood of parents concerned with getting their children into schools with good engineering departments, or strong business programs, or the best medical school acceptance statistics. These worries have replaced or overshadowed the desire for their children to gain independence, explore new ideas, and find the school where they will grow the most.
There's a hyper intense focus on getting students to peg down a career while still in high school, and it forces the college search to revolve around that end, so much so that it often eclipses the discussion of school fit. Certainly, part of fit is finding a school that offers a major suited to the student's interests, but this should rarely be the driving factor in undergraduate studies (graduate school is very different, mind you).
This change in educational tides concerns me because I know college is the place where students truly learn to think, and I worry this wonderful pursuit of intellectual curiosity will be stunted when a student's four year focus is consumed by the task of getting an internship in the most prestigious an engineering firm instead of trying their hand at the campus poetry slam, or listening to a debate on human rights, or even playing inner tube water polo. In other words, students may lose the love of learning for learning's sake, one of the most fulfilling pursuits we can expose them to.
"But don't students learn to think in high school? My kid took 11 APs!" To answer is a sweeping generality, no. High school, despite the best efforts of The Common Core, STEM, Bloom's Taxonomy, etc., is about getting the work done to make the grade. The college admissions process is largely to blame for this: there is so much weight placed on high school grades and rigor of curriculum. Students don't take Advanced Placement World History to learn more about the Roman Empire, they take it because it looks good on their transcript, and they only want that transcript to get into college, and they are being told that college is about getting a job... see where this leads?
The irony of this all is that most employers value critical thinking and the ability to synthesize beyond subject expertise. Consider this report released last April by the Association of American Colleges and Universities. They found "while policy leaders have been focused intensely on what college students are choosing as their majors and what salaries they are being paid shortly after they graduate, business leaders who actually hire college graduates are urging us to prioritize the cross-cutting capacities a college education should develop in every student, in every major." In other words, let college be about learning, growing, thinking and not job prospecting.
So parents, I know you have the best of intentions when you push your child to search for colleges through the lens of majors, departments, and job placement. But remember that what's equally important is helping them to find a place where they will not only acquire expertise, but also a love of learning that will last them a lifetime (cue rainbows and fireworks).
Wanted: More U.S. College Grads with Critical Thinking Skills
I'd love to hear your opinions on this, too! Comment below or send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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