2014-08-05

Education. My Favourite Thing.

Let's Kill the College Major

This article came up in a forum. My comment:
Relatedly, I spent 50% of my undergraduate figuring out why university syllabi in the US are as un-MECE as they are. Back to OP tho,

Short version: one needs to take a means->ends approach to this.

ActivityX can be "an academic program", "a time of private study", or anything else.

1) if the objective of activityX is to (a) train people to question their assumptions, and the assumptions of the world around them [philosophical driver], (b) figure out what they're going to specialise in later in life [self-discovery driver], then no-majors is the way to go; everyone should be a generalist;

2) if the objective of activityX is to (a) equip people to get jobs [bottom-up economic driver] (b) create skilled labour for industries [top-down economic driver], then majors are definitely the way to go; in fact there should be minimal or zero general education in the syllabus, specialisation would be best.

3) if the objective of activityX is a bit more J (as in P vs J), and intending to create super-hero quality folks who have both 1) and 2), then heck... you're super, right? Do'em both in four years total.

And that's pretty much what the education industry looks like. The last time I checked circa 2003, there were 3000 registered tertiary organisations in the US. 100-200 made it to a list of "top rankings". The schools in the "top 20 colleges / top 20 universities" consider the others dross, and the schools in the "top 5 / top 5" consider all the others dross. It really is quite the rat race.

I went to a top-20 liberal arts college, and the top students gunning for (2) above would triple major (physics, economics, math) and got get $60,000/year jobs in investment banking - but they knew they weren't in these schools for the liberal arts program - they were there because they were on scholarship.

I was on scholarship too, but I was a type-(1) specialist, so after figuring out the economic drivers of the college syllabi, and deciding that there was nothing I could do to fix it, I spent the next two years finishing a major in philosophy (easiest damn B in the house) and funnelling all my resources into independent study of information science in the library. (My home country has shitty libraries, so I figured I'd make the most of it while I could.)

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