The merits of “higher education”-or lack there of

We attend one of the greatest higher education institutions in the country, scratch that, the world.  That’s an empirical fact – not biased conjecture.  But what’s the point.  Our students work hard-that’s cool.  That being said, there is a surprising balance between students’ desire to advance their own educations, through hard work and countless sleepless nights, and the ability of many people on campus to maintain active social lives.  Unfortunately I remain unsatisfied with U of M.  Shocking, I know. Who doesn’t love Michigan?  Let me clarify, I love Umich.  I couldn’t fathom going anywhere else.  Without a doubt in my mind, I chose the right college out of my acceptances.  My dissatisfaction lies is the academic realm of this institution.  My complaint is not that the work is too hard nor that the professors are inadequate (although I would argue that plenty of those exist).  My biggest complaint lies within the institution’s desire to ensure that it’s students graduate with a wide-range of expertise and take a multitude of subjects throughout their tenure at University.

What? You’re objection is that the university you attend actively wants you to be a well-rounded student when you graduate?  Yes! Yes! A thousand times yes.

My greatest objection is that the university enforces so many distribution requirements.  I recognize the merit in ensuring that students take a breadth of courses in the 4 short years (on average) that they’re enrolled.  For the driven student that has “known” what they want to do with their education since they were 4 (whether it be pre-med, business, studying developmental psych- or whatever it is) or the student that begins freshman year scratching their heads responding to their advisor during orientation with “I have no clue  what I want to study,” – taking courses in various fields is admirable.  The university ensures that the student is forced into taking subjects that may enable the individual to discover what they like, and often more importantly, what they don’t like.

In my first two years at UofM, I have done just that.  I came in for orientation unsure of what subjects I would engage in, what direction I wanted to take my life, and what occupation I ultimately wanted to end up with.  Since then, I’ve been able to recognize the type of classes I enjoy-namely history, english, and psychology.  In reflection of discovering this, I couldn’t be more thankful to the university and the courses that led to this self-discovery.  However, like most people in society, I remain unsatisfied even with all the benefits it provides.

I genuinely love history.  I like learning about the past, various events and social movements that occurred.  Within that,  I enjoy learning about the motives that led people to act in certain ways, conform to certain social norms, and respond to events of the specific time period individuals live in (the psychological component).

Now that I know what I like and what I don’t, I can now focus my education around those types of courses, perhaps even become an expert in those fields-WRONG!  Being an LSA student, I can’t speak specifically about the requirements of other schools and colleges within the university, but from what I gather from friends it is fairly uniform across the university.

The college of Literature, Science, and the Arts requires that I fulfill seemingly endless distribution requirements.  QR, language, Natural Sciences, humanities…where does it end.  Fortunately, I recognized this early on in my college career. Up until the end of my sophomore year, I’ve primarily been going out of my way to fulfill requirements.  Not knowing what I wanted when I began freshman year, it seemed logical that I attempt to take classes that genuinely sounded interesting-while more importantly- concurrently meeting various distributions.  I was very successful.  Most, if not all of the classes I’ve taken were chosen for a specific purpose, meeting a specific need so that I can graduate on time and absolve my parents the responsibility of paying for me to learn.  Assuming I don’t fail any of my classes, this semester will mark the end of my general distribution req’s.  No more QR classes (hate those), no more Natural Sciences (hate those even more).  One would think that this would enable me to only take classes within my concentration and that I genuinely am interested in for my remaining two years.  Unfortunately this is not the case.

Within my concentration, I am restricted by the need to fulfill various regional distributions.  Aside from taking a certain number of 200/300 level courses (no objections there), I need to take courses that delve into topics all across the globe.  Notable history concentration distributions: class that meets a global regional distribution, pre-1800 history course, European, U.S. and Asian regional distribution, a survey sequence course, etc.  On paper, this all makes sense.  The department wants to ensure that I am a well-rounded student.  But should this come at the cost of me not being able to specialize in a specific area?

Taking so many courses in different fields/areas of a specific field ensures that I know a wide-range of histories/subjects, but it also ensures that I don’t know any one area/field that well.  Why is it that I am unable to simply take courses that genuinely pique my interest.  In the few classes that I have wholeheartedly been interested in, I’ve dedicated myself to knowing the subject matter as well as actively engage in academic discussion.  In the majority (if not all) of my distribution classes, I merely do whatever it takes to get a good grade and meet my req’s so that I don’t have to take another course like it.  I look for the easiest NS classes-the content of the class means nothing to me and realistically I wont retain a majority of it.

So what’s the point?  Should college be about me becoming a well rounded student? Or should it be about fostering genuine education.  In my opinion, obtaining an education from a “Higher-Ed” institution should be about more than just demonstrating a proficiency in a wide-breadth of subject matter.  What does that really prove? That I am capable of memorizing the phases of the moon right before an exam? That I can recall general economic trends that I’ll forget hours after taking an exam?  What is this education promoting?

Perhaps I have an overly idealistic perception of what an education should be about.  But hey, I’m an out-of-state student paying thousands of dollars annually (and by me I mean my parents).  Shouldn’t I be able to just study what I want.  I worked hard to get the grades and test scores to allow me to come to this glorious place. I wholeheartedly enjoy learning (crazy concept, I know).  I feel fulfillment merely by engaging in subjects that makes me scratch my head and want to continue discussion outside of the classroom.  The way I see it, us students are entrapped in an ongoing paradox.  We’re told we’re adults when we go to college.  We feed ourselves.  Nobody is looking over our shoulder to make sure our homework is getting done.  The only people accountable for our grades is ourselves (thankfully UofM doesn’t mail our report cards home).  However, at the same time, the university implements these restrictions that essentially say, “you are not capable of determining what type of education is adequate.”  “You must take this wide-range of courses to say that you are proficient in something.”  If I am an adult (and I think I am), shouldn’t I be allowed the opportunity to determine what I need to become proficient in something to obtain a degree?

I’m not suggesting that our higher education system should reflect that of South Harmon’s Institute of Technology (a fictional college created in the 2006 movie “Accepted” based on the principles of students fully determine the courses of their education and teach eachother).  But I think the SHITheads have something going.  Maybe there’s a happy medium between the stringent requirements (or should we call them limitations?) that our universities force upon us and completely unbounded education.  Maybe there isn’t.  I don’t know.  Isn’t college supposed to be about not only learning about society and specific areas of learning, but also questioning what we do know and what exists?  Like I said, maybe I just have an overly idealistic interpretation of what my education should be and how it should be geared, but I believe I’m not the only one (surely wasn’t trying to be trite quoting Mr. Lennon, but couldn’t find another way to express my sentiment).

Leave a Reply