Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Thoughts on college and employment

One of the statistics recently being tossed around is how few recent college graduates actually have jobs in their field of study.

And while I completely understand that few businesses are hiring...there are other issues at play, perhaps.

I think many of us in academia have heard employers bemoaning how they have to "train" the college graduates - not just "train" them in specific things, like maybe the particular software the business uses, but "train" them in communication and basic math and even sometimes "responsibility" (like: show up to work on time). And yeah, perhaps some of those are cases where we (collectively) have failed our graduates, by allowing them out into the workforce without an adequate weeding process.

But there's another thing happening. I've seen it on my campus. Recently, we had a BGS instituted. Meaning, Bachelor of General Studies. Lots of schools have these; Michigan had one as an option back in the day when I went there. (And oh, how snobbish we biologists were! We laughed at the "pink tassel" people - at graduation, people who earned a B.S. had a gold tassel on their mortarboard, people who earned a B.A. had a white tassel, but B.G.S. had a pink tassel. We called 'em the 7-11 manager wannabees, and I don't mean that in the Joe Biden sense.)

Don't get me wrong: a person can do a "good" B.G.S. If a student wants some kind of unusual interdisciplinary major that is not offered on their campus, they can use the B.G.S. as a way of setting up their own interdisciplinary major. But, the reason the Pink Tassel Kids got their reputation, was that a lot of people doing a BGS used it as....well, another derogatory term we used was the "Choose Your Own Adventure major" (kids who grew up in the late 70s and early 80s will remember that series of books. Usually you wound up making the wrong choice and dying...).  The students who took that major often did it to make a "lite" version of some other major, so they didn't have to take the "hard" classes.

And unfortunately, that seems to be happening here. I heard both a chem prof and someone from math bemoaning that they've lost majors from their department to BGS, when those majors learned about some of the advanced classes they would be expected to take, either as Chem or Math majors. And I've heard of people in other majors doing it to avoid some of the writing-intensive classes.

And here's the thing: if you choose the "soft" way through, if you avoid some forms of preparation, and you're in a bad job market, you're going to lose out to the guy who decided to take the tough classes.

I will say I think BGS does need some reform: don't do away with it completely, because there are those people who have a really unusual plan of what they want to do, and it's a solid plan, it's just a major that doesn't currently exist as a defined major. But don't let people use it as a soft-armchair option for college. Or at least make them sign a paper certifying they won't bitch about their "valueless" degree when they can't get a job.

Sadly, I don't think that will happen. There's even a push here for a "three-year plan" BGS....where a lot of the classes are 8 week classes and are presumably a bit watered down. And that displeases me. What we DON'T need is an underclass of people who look college-educated but really aren't. What we need in this country is people who are willing to work hard....and options for people who want to do that work but maybe don't want or need college.What I don't want to see is us become some kind of training facility for the Future Telemarketers of America.

So, just as some people have a hard time finding a job....I think there are also employers out there who are having a hard time finding "ready" employees: people who are ready to work, who are ready to do what writing is required of them, who are ready to do the hard things.

1 comment:

Kate P said...

Part of the reason I transferred out of my undergraduate college was that I was interested in the English major, but the English major was considered the "joke" major and what you picked if you wanted something easy and/or weren't serious about school.

All my mom cared about for her children's education was that we got a Liberal Arts degree, because she figured we'd be able to think. (I wonder what she thinks of our education judging by the results!)