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The Purpose of College

Dave_BerryDave_Berry 492 replies2659 threadsCC Admissions Expert Senior Member
edited October 2012 in Parents Forum
"The overwhelming majority of college-goers today don’t enroll in higher education to get an education as much as they seek to earn a credential that they can successfully leverage in a labor market."

Agree or disagree.

The real economics of massive online courses (essay) | Inside Higher Ed
edited October 2012
50 replies
Post edited by Dave_Berry on
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Replies to: The Purpose of College

  • maidenMommaidenMom 836 replies39 threads Member
    My D is doing both
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  • intparentintparent 36291 replies644 threads Senior Member
    D2 (rising HS senior) and I had a serious conversation about this the other day as she was reviewing a book of college majors, and we were discussing her college list. I wanted to make sure we talked about why she is going to college (from both of our perspectives). Certainly there is a component of expecting her to complete some course of study that will improve her chances of employment or entry to a paid graduate program on graduation. But we also discussed the intellectual stimulation side of college; D2 is a deep thinker, and craves an environment where she can meet, study, and live with others like herself for the next four years. We also discussed that college can be a fairly safe environment that gives her another four years to mature and experience new things without the pressures yet of full time work and supporting herself completely; she can explore some different subjects/career topics, study abroad, and try internships to dip her toe in the working world. I also expect she will work part time to make her own spending and book money, so there is a taste of more menial "real" work as well in that.

    There will always be people who either by choice or necessity consider college to be only a process to punch a ticket for employment purposes. I do not see anything wrong with that, but in our household we view it as something more (although that is a component).
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  • MarianMarian 13230 replies83 threads Senior Member
    When my son was applying for college, he ran across an essay question on some application that asked him why he wanted to go to college. To him, this was an absurd question. In his opinion, except for unusual instances in which students have other goals for what to do after high school graduation (e.g., enlisting in the military), college is the default option. It's what you do when you're 18. You don't need a reason.

    Once he got to college, he earned a credential (a degree in computer science) that made him employable, explored intellectual interests (including a minor in philosophy), and did a great deal of growing up. But he didn't go to college for any of these reasons. He went because it's what young people do. No other reason.
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  • BogneyBogney 2356 replies8 threads Senior Member
    The overwhimeling majority of students going to college seek a degree from the experience. Their degree is the credential which makes them more employable than those without a degree. Some tailor their degree more specificially to their perception of the needs of the job market than others; however, even the much maligned liberal arts majors with a degree have an advantaage in the job market over high school graduates. The degree is also necessary to move on to graduate school or professional school with reare therotetical exceptions. Therefore, I think the quote in the OP is accurate.

    My S is looking at an English / philosophy double major, or some combination of major and minor betweeh the two. He has no idea what he wants to do after college. He is using the study of great writers and thinkers to improve his analytic skills and his writing, skills we hope might still be useful once he graduates. He is much like I was 30 plus years ago. He is very focused on learning the class material because he enjoyrs it, but it clearly could be done outside of the college context for much less money if the degree was not necessary. D will be in the same palce in four years. I have taken a fair number of Teaching Company and I-Tunes U classes because I enjoy them and already have my degrees. Many students do enjoy the process of being educated apart from an degree, but there can be little doubt that the point of college is to obtain a degree, one hopes through demonstrating the requisite acquisition of knowledge in a major.

    The MOOCs are a very interesting idea. They might be very useful for brushing up, or retraining people who already have a degree, but need to learn knew fields for a change of employment, or new job. Employers will figure out soon enough whether the student has simple gone through the motions or learned what they were expected to from the classes.
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  • PolarBearVsSharkPolarBearVsShark 588 replies11 threads Member
    Probably not an agree or disagree kind of question.
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  • MiamiDAPMiamiDAP 16183 replies1 threads Senior Member
    The purpose of college is different from person to person. We do not need to agree or disagree.
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  • hawkeyes55hawkeyes55 56 replies0 threads Junior Member
    Is this a surprise?
    People want to get a degree, that is why they go to college. It is ridiculously hard to make a decent amount of money with just a high school diploma. It matters less what the degree is unless you are looking into a few certain ones (Such as engineering, high-level sciences, etc) then that you have one.
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  • MiamiDAPMiamiDAP 16183 replies1 threads Senior Member
    ^Well, I know some who are looking for the spouse as main reason which is included very high in their selection criteria. We simply do not know why people attend the college, and even if we poll, many people will not tell the truth.
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  • mitchklongmitchklong 785 replies28 threads Member
    Absolutely agree.

    As an example, assume a computer science major completes every requirement for a degree except for one elective class. They certianly have an education. But they wont get an interview for a CS job. Their resume wont even get past HR. Your salary opportunity drops from 60K per year to maybe 30K just because you didnt complete one class.

    College isnt as much about learning as it is proving yourself. Your degree says something about your skills and commitment. Employers takes a huge financial risk anytime they hire someone, and looking for people with degrees helps them mitigate that risk.

    College does help you grow as a person, and being part of that environment can be rewarding a fun. But unless you are independently wealthy thats not its purpose. If you think it is you lack a fundamental understanding of what you are trying to accomplish.
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  • DougBetsyDougBetsy 5578 replies252 threads Senior Member
    I need to be convinced that there was ever a time when people went to college "to get an education." I mean, it sounds great, and all. But, really, the only people who did that might have been the ones that never needed to work for a living.
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  • compmomcompmom 10931 replies78 threads Senior Member
    This question is taken a little out of context, since the article is actually about the value or lack of value in taking the new free, online courses offered by various elite colleges.

    So the article itself asks, if the real purpose of college is learning, why not do these free classes (no credit, because those who sign up online are not screened by an admissions committee, and granting credit would water down the value of the elite degrees offered to those who were admitted to the campus school) or even read on one's own?

    If, on the other hand, the purpose of college is to get a degree and credential for employment, then these online classes are not going to help, since students will not get credit let alone a degree.

    There has been a lot of press lately about these online courses that are being offered through Coursera (Stanford and others), Yale, MIT and others. But it does seem that the courses will be most beneficial to those who already have a degree and want to continue learning, much like adult education centers in places like Cambridge.

    I do think that free online courses from elite institutions may help legitimize online courses, because some of the people who will take, say, modern poetry with Coursera, may be influential in spreading the word that online learning can really work.
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  • saxsax 5272 replies156 threads Senior Member
    I think we are in the beginnnings of an "educational revolution"

    Colleges as we know them today will look much different. I believe that those colleges that are already offering online education are doing so with hopes of shaping how online learning is developed with the goal being that they can still be relevant in the future AND still be making money AND still have prestige (Brand name relevence).

    Now the most awesome part of this revolution is that tablets and the internet will become available to EVERYONE in the world.

    However we will see those that will try to control "access to knowledge" and what "knowledge" will be available so that they can make money.

    What is relatively "free" today on the internet might cost you much more in the future.

    In the future I see the end to "college degrees" and a desire for very specific cutting edge knowledge that is ongoing.
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  • saxsax 5272 replies156 threads Senior Member
    At the present time I believe only those with extra available money can learn just for the pure sake of learning


    Son is taking an entire online graduate degree from a top college. His diploma will not have any indication that his degree is online.

    The best part of this is he can continue his education no matter where in the world his company sends him or for how long. Even better the company pays for it.

    I realize my posts are a bit off topic.
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  • MiamiDAPMiamiDAP 16183 replies1 threads Senior Member
    Well, again, nobody can judge anybody else. Consider my own kid. She had a Music Minor. Why? Because she wanted, no other reason, provided her with R&R because of easy classes and awesome experiences like recording her own music in real recording studio and as a bonus developing a pretty good voice without voice coaching. Anyhow, she just had fun with it and nothing else. She is NOT going to use it. When she wanted to learn another instrument, she did it on her own, no classes, no teacher and before college too. She does not have any time in her life to use her Music education in any shape or form. Her performance skills again were developed before college thru private lessons. As a cherry on top, Music minor did not cost a dime as she was on full tuition Merit award in UG. So, here is her reason to go to college - get a paper so that she could apply to Med. School and have an awesome time while obtaining this paper.
    Her reasons are very close to other pre-meds and might be very different from others. And again, as I mentioned above, some of it was for fun. If it is free, why not?
    Absolutely everybody is very different with different purposes and goals at every stage of their lives, including college.
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 34866 replies394 threads Senior Member
    Your degree doesn't necessarily say one word about your skills. Lots of kids come out without the ability to write or analyze. Using the CS example, there are plenty of people working in the field, successfully, without the college degree. Frankly, in those 4 years you could accomplish a lot of ojt learning, earn and avoid debt.

    But, people believe the degree makes a difference. I know too many who ended up in same old low responsibility, low growth jobs after slaving through college.

    So, my frank answer: too many go thinking it is a magic credential.
    We wanted our kids to develop intellectual polish (yes, I really said that,) mature the depth of their knowledge and hone critical thinking, etc.

    Otoh, D1 was clear what her goals were: work hard, studying what she loved- and party hard. All accomplished. She has a somewhat obscure major and has met our goals for being smarter and more capable than when she started. We'll see if she is your local barrista next summer.

    No, we are not wealthy.
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  • compmomcompmom 10931 replies78 threads Senior Member
    Sax, I agree about the idea that college education will go through some revolutionary changes. One factor is economic. Online courses, low residency programs and the like can be done for less money, while people work and raise families, and will reduce college debt while keeping down expenses.

    Online classes seem to me to be of equal quality, judging from the two classes I have taken so far. Different, but equal.

    Right now, these elite, free online programs are increasing access to knowledge, but not to a degree. As competition increases, it will be interesting to see what happens. Perhaps there will be many more "BLA" type degrees to differentiate from on campus ones.

    As for the original question, there is still no absolute need to match major with occupation. So students can learn what they want to learn (yes, for the sake of...) whether ancient literature or poetry or business, and then apply to any job that requires a degree, or to any graduate school program (sometimes with prerequisites in-between). So, for many (not nurses, engineers etc.) they can have their cake and eat it to, so to speak.
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  • NewHope33NewHope33 6136 replies72 threads Senior Member
    I was going to respond to this thread yesterday, but I got too busy. Sorry.

    Of course kids go to college to obtain a credential. Of course they're expected to come out of college more mature. And virtually all would like spend a little time away from Mom and Dad and all those long-known neighbors who still call them "Sweetie."

    Beyond that, kids go for their own reasons. I've seen first-hand the effects of social isolation: home schooling in a rural area followed by four years at a rural Evangelical college. The kids speak and write perfectly. But their ability to relate to those with different backgrounds is very limited.

    I think those who advocate "distance learning is cheaper and does just as good a job" are largely ignoring the socialization that goes on in colleges ... with regard to both classwork and time otherwise spent.
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  • JimboSteveJimboSteve 822 replies12 threads Member
    "The overwhelming majority of college-goers today don’t enroll in higher education to get an education as much as they seek to [prolong entry into] a labor market [and to access a social scene filled with others their age]."
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  • ohiobassmomohiobassmom 1384 replies17 threads Senior Member
    Marian, our sons could be twins :)
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  • CentralFCCentralFC 395 replies17 threads Member
    I would say firmly that I enjoy academics for the work involved in pursuing understanding and/or knowledge. I love learning.
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