Sunday, February 1, 2015

"Why are so many college students failing to gain job skills before graduation?" From WashPo.

“This is a generation that has been ‘syllabused’ through their lives,” Artim said, referring to the outline of a class students receive at the beginning of a college course. “Decisions were made for them, so we’re less likely to find someone who can pull the trigger and make a decision.”


  1. Marie Artim makes the mistake of assuming that the syllabus takes decisions out of the hands of students.

    This is a generation that has been ‘helicoptered’ through their lives. Decisions were made for them, so they're less likely to have learned the skill of making a decision.

  2. Part of Enterprise's problem is probably that they hire athletes. At least in my experience, athletes (at least those in marquee sports) are among the most helicoptered/overscheduled/infantilized of all. Enterprise is probably not going to be able to hire the students with the most highly-developed teamwork *and* problem-solving skills (engineers), since engineers expect to be paid more than I suspect Enterprise is willing to fork out for counter staff, so maybe they should try others with experience working in groups -- theater or many music majors, perhaps? Or just try humanities majors, who tend to be pretty flexible and to have critical-thinking skills.

    Like OPH, I tend to think of the mile-long syllabus as a symptom, not a cause. Syllabi are so long because students are used to so much guidance by the time we get them (and because both they and their parents can be so argumentative/litigious). One also has to take into account that more and more faculty are vulnerable from semester to semester to losing their jobs.

    Finally, more and more of us, even with relatively secure jobs, are teaching way too many students in total, which stifles flexibility/creativity. It's fine to plan a fairly loose, at least partly student-guided, syllabus if one has one or two relatively-small sections; with four (or more), it's a recipe for disaster. Even the kind of controlled chaos I invite by having students choose their own major-project topics is hard to manage; between the students who are completely flummoxed by the idea and try, repeatedly, to get me to just assign them a topic, and the ones who run with way-too-broad topics and resist being reined in, and the ones who're bound and determined to find a way to use an old paper (or one they found on the internet), I'm usually close to tearing my hair out for several weeks beginning about now, and then periodically throughout the semester as I discover (often later than ideal) students who've drifted back into unworkable-topic territory. I've learned to make it work, but I've got 20+ years' experience in the classroom, and 15 teaching this particular class (and yes, I earn a bit more money than my less-experienced colleagues because of that -- just a bit, and still nowhere near what similarly-experienced tenured colleagues earn, but my experience still makes the classes I teach just that bit more expensive, from a bean-counter's point of view).

  3. Ideally students should think of going to college as a full-time job, and put all their energies into learning content and producing high-standards work. Obviously very few of them do that, not least since so many work 20h/wk or more.

    Another factor is that profs are no longer allowed to require standards in student work (or even attendance) under penalty of failing the course. At least I'm not, and I'm tenured at Flagship State. If I did, I'd have to fail 50% or more of each intro class I teach. My admins don't care about "standards", they care about "graduation rates"; I can document anything I want, and it wouldn't matter. So it becomes a game, where the students do the absolute least amount of work needed to pass, and I have to find reasons to bump people from an F to a C, to meet an acceptable pass rate. High school has gone down the drain in the US (teachers are disempowered to fail people too), and it's no wonder that college had to follow. You can't simultaneously have weak high schools, open admission, high graduation rates and standards. If you want the first three, let's have the meaningless charade.

    The author points out college-level workplaces are "contextually driven", as opposed to "task-driven". Try telling students that learning specific content is important, and that they need to to it themselves any way they can; most of them have no idea what that means. For them the whole process is "complete one formal task after another in the least amount of time", and move on to important things like dating, partying and football. They don't see any intrinsic meaning or interest in what they're learning, and I have no doubt they carry that attitude to the workplace.

  4. This whole idea is a semantic error. He says "syllabused" when he means "helicoptered/oversupervised/hyperscheduled/infantilized."

  5. In addition, they've been indoctrinated with the idea that individual effort counts for nothing as it disrupts collective group-think. This discourages personal initiative which, sometimes, is what's required for a team to accomplish its objectives.

    In addition, they've been taught that all failure is bad. Sometimes failure is the best teacher by pointing out weaknesses in a design or method that might not have been found otherwise. I've written enough computer code to know that if it works right the first time, I should be worried as chances are I've done something wrong.

  6. "whether a student launches after college depends largely on what they do while in school. Just getting the sheepskin no longer guarantees a good job"

    You say that like it's a bad thing

    " it really doesn’t matter what they major in as long as they are rigorous in their studies as well as activities beyond the classroom."

    So clearly the whole problem is the universities' fault

    "Too many colleges are failing to provide that guidance "

    Ok, I'm just going to give up now, and go huddle in the corner clutching a bottle of scotch.

    1. "They've been over-guided throughout their lives, so colleges need to provide more guidance. "


      Pass the scotch, please.

  7. We focus too much on job skills and not enough on the liberal arts notion that an educated person is important to sustain our culture and society. The real purpose of education is to deepen minds and to create human beings who care about humanity, the environment, and make decisions accordingly. I know, very idealistic but that is exactly the point.

    Forget job training and spend more time on training minds.