Saturday, September 6, 2008

Oh to be a college student again....

Today, I discovered a blog whose contributors are students in a political science class at UNC -- I'll go ahead and let you decide which way the posts swing on the political spectrum.

Anyway, what directed my attention there was a post titled "NC Governor's Race: Vocational Training" which criticizes Pat McCrory's stance on education. The blogger wrote:

"Republican Pat McCrory says he “wants to return the word ‘technical’ to community colleges.” Putting an emphasis on vocational training, he says, would improve the state of North Carolina’s economy by providing workers with a good background in specific fields, such as health care and electrical work, where jobs are waiting.

While a nice thought, the idea that high school students can make an informed decision about which career path they would like to choose is ludicrous. Even here at UNC, the most popular declared major for incoming freshmen is ‘undecided,’ and many of those who declare a major while incoming change it later...

In addition, this type of vocational training has a number of potential pitfalls. Take, for example, the town of High Point, North Carolina. The town, called the ‘furniture capital of the world,’ had a thriving manufacturing sector, but many of the jobs producing furniture have been off-shored to India and other developing nations. If the workers in these factories were trained vocationally, they would not have the broad-based skill set necessary to innovate in light of these changing conditions. The alternative to vocational training, a liberal arts education, focuses on knowledge in a breadth of areas, making it easier for graduates to adapt to new economic situations.

This poster has clearly never heard McCrory throw off on his own liberal arts education while pointing out that many people working in mechanical jobs make more than he does.

Anyway, here's my response:

I have to admit, I’ve never seen an argument FOR a liberal arts education. I have a political science degree and a fairly decent paying job, but I have no illusions that a trained monkey could do my job, let alone someone with just a high school degree.

You’re talking about a very specialized version of vocational training, and that’s not what Pat McCrory is all about. McCrory wants to give high schoolers the opportunity to participate in mechanical training, electrical training, agricultural training, etc. I have news for you: our mechanics aren’t going to be out-sourced to India.

And your theory that no teenager really knows what they want to do with their lives just because a group of first-year college students partying on mommy and daddy’s dime don’t know what to major in doesn’t hold water in the real world. Many high schoolers know by the age of 15 or 16 if they’re going to be working after graduation. Why not give those kids an option of learning a trade while still in high school rather than wasting their time — and everyone else’s, for that matter — with pre-college classes?

People with liberal arts degrees like myself are quickly and easily being replaced by computers. I’ve only been out of school for three years, and I’m already making plans to go back for a supplemental degree. A liberal arts degree isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.


Chase said...

We're outsourcing furniture manufacturing to India?

I have a computer science degree. I am payed very well, but software development is always in danger of being outsourced. Its not really a concern for my particular company, because the fact that we do our development in house is one of our big selling points to new customers, but I digress.

Also, when I have to get a tune up or oil change or what not, I send my Honda back to Japan to have the work done :-P

Liberal Arts majors usually are very diverse, and because of that there is a large spectrum of jobs that can be had. At the same time, those jobs are usually pretty generic and the person performing them can be easily replaced.

The examples they site of vocational training, electrical and health care, are also not going to be out sourced. If an electrician has to fly all the way from India, it kind of kills the savings you get from cheaper labor.

The final, and biggest error, that the students make is the assumption that what you learn in college is all you have to learn to get a job and succeed. No matter how specific or how broad your degree might be, education doesn't end when you are given a diploma. Even if you don't go back to school for another degree (associates, bachelors, masters, or PhD) you have to continually work to improve your skills and value, and that doesn't just come from on the job experience.

My degree is in computer science. I do software development mainly. In the last 3 years of working, I have learned more than I learned in the 6 years I was in college. Some of that is because I've learned how to do things better than the way I did them when I graduated. Other things are because I took initiative to learn them, even when I didn't need them for my job at the time.

Heck, a lot of the skills that got me this job when I graduated were things I taught myself while in school, not things I learned in class.

Melissa said...

Basically, the furniture comment is a local reference. High Point has been referred to as "the furniture capital of the world", but recently has been shutting down its furniture industries left and right. People would rather buy cheaper furniture made overseas.

I think the big problem here is that this blog is written by a class of first-year students at one of the most liberal universities in North Carolina. They're all very idealistic, and they can't imagine who would choose to NOT attend college. That's why they think the answer is to give free college tuition to high school graduates. But you're very right -- the jobs that are being outsourced aren't the jobs that would be created by this kind of vocational training.

Like someone commented on my LJ, your degree usually only helps you with your first job, and after that, potential employers usually search your experience when determining whether or not to hire you.

Anonymous said...

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