Office of Planning and Budgeting

“Did Anyone Ask the Students?” A Student’s Response

Jeff Selingo’s recent blog post on the Chronicle of Higher Education website summarizes conversations he had with students at six higher education institutions about majors, job skills, and online learning. His findings were somewhat surprising and ran counter to many current trends in higher education. First, he learned that students, while completely immersed in the online world otherwise, do not favor online learning. Instead, they crave face-to-face, personal interactions with students and professors. Second, students feel unprepared for choosing a major and a career, and more counseling would be useful in helping students find their ideal career path. Finally, students do not think majors matter that much—instead of pursuing career-specific majors, students want a broad education that exposes them to many disciplines and prepares them to be good learners and thinkers.

As a student, I can relate to most, if not all of Selingo’s findings. I have never taken an online class at the University of Washington, and few undergraduates I know have. Those that have taken online courses say it is much more difficult to stay motivated and keep up with the material when there is no class to go to and no professor or TA to notice if you fall behind. As an International Studies major, discussion and group work are central to my studies and difficult to replicate online. While such classes are likely helpful for non-traditional, working students finishing their degrees, they are not a perfect replacement for an interactive classroom experience.

Selingo’s assertion that students want more career exploration before college is likely accurate, though I know efforts made both in K-12 and higher education in Washington to help students choose careers and majors. The culminating project and High School and Beyond Plan students complete at the end of high school in Washington State is meant to help students identify their interests and strengths and decide on future career and educational goals. FIGs and TRIGs at UW can help students gain an introduction to prospective majors, and career and academic advisors give lots of opportunities for students to explore potential career paths. While certainly not all students seek out help, there are many options and resources for students that look for them.

The finding that surprised me most was that the students Salingo interviewed thought majors did not matter and were not interested in career-specific learning. While most students I know follow their passions and interests when selecting a major, I believe the economic downturn has made my peers more practical about their choices. A student might major in accounting or business instead of economics, or major in biology and pursue their interest in theater in their free time. Many students add second, more job-skills focused majors or minors late in their undergraduate education in order to make themselves more competitive in the job market. Often, internships solicit applications from specific majors like business, engineering or computer science, which pushes students to consider these majors over others in order to get relevant job experience.

To read more of the Chronicle blog post, please click here.

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