OP-ED: College used to be about personal growth. Now, it’s just career prep

The College of Engineering hosts a career fair in Fiedler Hall on Feb. 8, 2017. (Archive photo by Nathan Jones | Collegian Media Group)

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Higher education was not always viewed as merely job training like it is today. Universities were once considered a place for people to grow academically and develop their minds. But today, they are hardly regarded as such.

Today, colleges and universities are marketed to students as a building block for future careers. This marketing is reinforced in high schools with a focus on college preparatory work. The jargon is somewhere along the lines of, “Do well in high school to get into college to earn a degree to get a job.”

While jobs are important, we as a society are losing the fundamental purpose of institutes of higher education. The focus in college has become more on a student’s career after college instead of focusing on the development of that student’s intellect right now.

That’s not to say professors do not care about their students’ growth—most of them do. It just means that as a whole, the purpose of these institutions has morphed into something less than it used to be.

Eighteen-year-olds are coming into college expected to know all of their interests and passions, with a plan for what they want to study. When they inevitably conclude that they don’t actually know what they want, they often settle on a “practical major.”

While I firmly believe there is no such thing as a bad major, choosing a “practical major” just because one thinks it will lead to a job is not the proper formula. After all, there are examples throughout recent history of entrepreneurs and innovators who never actually got a college degree, let alone one in a “practical major.”

It raises the question: is college even necessary?

The answer is both yes and no. It depends.

Due to the change in focus from expanding intellect to job preparation, a college degree is now required by many companies and organizations. However, is it necessary to pay over $30,000 in tuition toward a business degree when you always intended to start your own business? Maybe not.

It is also important to remember that while the focus is now on careers after college, there is still an interest in expanding the mind through personal growth, just not necessarily by the majority of students.

As a student with a vested interest in exploring different avenues of academic growth, my own transcript really makes no sense. There are classes listed from half of the colleges on Kansas State’s campus with no major specified.

When I meet with advisers in different departments, I am often met with surprise at the varying fields of interest my transcript describes. This surprise is not one I can understand because I only take classes if I enjoy the subject matter or want to know more about it.

The College of Business raises its eyebrows at my literature courses, and the College of Arts and Sciences questions my College of Agriculture courses. And all of them seem taken aback by my choice of foreign language.

Why? Because my transcript focuses on academic and intellectual growth, not the set major plan so I can graduate with a practical degree and get a job.

When we get stuck in individual colleges and major tracks, we miss out on the wonders of other fields. We may take one 100-level class outside our comfort zone in order to fulfill general university requirements, but we are limited in the amount of growth we can experience.

The original purpose of higher education was to grow and expand our knowledge of the world and the human experience. The purpose now is to get a job.

I question the latter. Is all of this job focus helping or hurting us? And what happens to the individuals like me who are just trying to figure it all out? My fear is that this career focus by universities takes away opportunities for exponential growth in intellect, perspective and in life.

Lauren Ailslieger is a sophomore in business. The views and opinions expressed in this opinion-editorial are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.