Saturday, April 11, 2009

UMSU: This is for U

A great Op-Ed piece today by Carson Jerema, who used to be the editor for the Manitoban.

Many views that I also share. I also believe this is increasingly common amongst my generation. University is not necessarily seen as a means to further one's interests, but as a prerequisite for a job that pays well.

Thus many people entering the workforce are incredibly inept at their jobs, however they may feel a sense of entitlement to it because of their degree.

I've personally become tired of the argument that a degree somehow proves that you are able to work towards something and achieve a goal. The truth is, from my field anyhow, studying science for 4 or 5 years doesn't give you any real-world experience.

I have fought with myself over the past 5 years on the value of my education at the University of Manitoba. I have seriously considered dropping out at least 3 times. Because of this I find I sympathize with people who "go to school anyways". It is incredibly difficult to find someone to talk to about these kinds of feelings/issues because most people (99.9%) give you the same advice your grandparents do: stay in school and get a good-paying job. But for many of us young'uns, this advice is neither a path to happiness or fulfillment.

The biggest question students find facing themselves is "what do I want to do?" Jerema surmises only 10% are fully engaged with their studies (read: know what they are there for), which is probably frighteningly accurate. I'm sure you've all heard this story before: guy gets a degree and doesn't know what to do with it. I personally know one guy, who earned himself a History Major, only to come back to school at the age of 25 to start a Bachelor of Science. I asked him why, to which he replied "I got tired of being a bouncer." This kind of story is all too common amongst students.

This emerging attitude/problem has implications for the way UMSU and other student unions do things but I doubt they see it that way. Their single goal seems to be tunnel-visioned to lowering tuition as much as they can under the guise that it somehow makes post-secondary more attractive to prospective students. With Canadian universities the way they are, this is NOT an obstacle to attending a university. As long as you value your education, or you see it as an investment, or the first step to getting your desired career path, 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 grand a year is going to be a no-brainer. I wish UMSU would get their priorities strait.

For any UMSU people who may be reading this, the school that I WANT to attend is in Maine, and would cost me $30 000 a year to attend. THIS is unaffordable for me, as a Canadian, with limited access to funding and scholarships. I'm not about to launch into the differences between Canadian and American post secondary systems but the bottom line is that even if I was coming from a low-income American household, it would be perfectly within my means to attend this university in Maine. Why? Because funding is available. Programs are available. You aren't expected to handle the whole burden by yourself.

And it doesn't stop there for this school, they help you design your degree and they even help you find jobs. This university and many others like it only want to help and see you succeed and realize your dreams. This is why I want to go there, aside from the fact that I would be surrounded by people like myself....they WANT to see me succeed. They WANT to help me find a fulfilling career path, something I could do great things in.

This should be your focus area, UMSU. Not tuition. If people can see a means to an end, your university would instantly become more appealing. Here I have to slug it out on my own. Faculty advisers are useless. Professors are in most cases, equally as helpful as the advisers. My suggestion is stop wasting your time fighting a useless and fruitless war in a vain attempt to get the government to continue to freeze tuition rates. The cold hard truth is a large majority of students CAN afford 3 or 4 or 5 grand a year. OF COURSE we don't WANT to spend more than we have to. Maybe Mr Brown's post can help you realize that pickle.

Invest your time and energy in programs to assist low-income families. If they really can't afford it, then let's help them, give them grants, scholarships, options of paying their tuition by other means. This is a minority of students...let the students who can afford it, afford it. Create programs for those who can't. Don't waste your time painting all students with the "we can't afford it" brush.

That's a wiiiide, wide brush. It detracts from what should be the top priority:

Investing in career counseling, better advisers (ie...advisers who don't just sit there and master the Aurora system), and getting more students realizing their dream career paths. Make this easily accessible. Right now, advisers are even first come first served basis! How pathetic is that? And all they can tell me is what courses I need for my degree...they don't offer career advice or options to explore. When you go back, you might not even get the same adviser, which means you have to start from zero again. It's unbelieveably frustrating.

Advisers and counselors should be one in the same. They should not only know how to work Aurora, but offer advice on career paths. They should be seen on an appointment basis (one that you can SET UP THROUGH AURORA OR JUMP!) and you should be able to see the same adviser, over and over, throughout your academic career, just as you would a family doctor, therapist or insurance agent. They should be savvy, tuned in to what is out there, what is available and what opportunities lie outside the confines of the campus and *gasp* the province, even outside the country.

The slogan for the University of Manitoba is "U of More." More what? More choice? Choice without direction or context? More choice when you don't know what you want to do, and have nobody to help you through it, is daunting, scary, and stressful.

The slogan for the Univeristy of Winnipeg is "YOU of W." I don't go there, so I really can't offer my opinion on whether or not the experience is about YOU.

But this is the right idea. About YOU. YOUR career. YOUR dreams. YOUR path in life. How about getting there? Tuition is low enough that it is not a factor for people attending university. If UMSU could get over that roadblock, in my opinion, applying pressure for more, better and comprehensive advising/counseling, would become a revolutionary step in post secondary education in Manitoba.


Jamie Isfeld said...

This article is kind of a joke.
If you want a real education, go to college. They care about your education and getting a job.

Universities are there to take your money and give you a paper that says you're qualified but will still be a bouncer, barista, or other such retail/service position that could be done without said paper in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Universities are there to take your money and give you a paper that says you're qualified but will still be a bouncer, barista, or other such retail/service position that could be done without said paper in the first place.

Um, Jamie, that's a bit harsh...Universities are nothing of the sort. At their best, they are centers of research and academic freedom where individuals go in order to learn about a chosen field and to contribute to our understanding of the world. They are wonderful places full of possibility and potential where every question can be asked and where the bounds of human knowledge and ability are tested.

They are not some scam set up to "take your money". The University, however, has been given an unfair rap because people misunderstand its function - it is not there to get you a job. It has become a job-getting location because of growing credentialism, which is a cultural force that exists outside of the control of the institution.

My degree, by the way, gave me the ability to get into a program in Japan where I was nothing like a barista or bouncer - it opened up hundreds of wonderful opporunities for which I am greatful. But, most importantly, it opened up my mind.

Freedom Manitoba said...

It depends on what you want to do. If you want to be a manager at Wal-Mart, get a job there and put in the time, you can move up the ladder, it's doesn't require Univeristy. If you want to be a doctor, there is a burden of education needed.

I think too many young people go to University without knowing what they want to do, they are just putting in time. That really is a waste of time, and money.

I went to college when I was 24. It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do and how to achieve that. Once I did that I spent my money and time wisely and it paid off.

Set real goals, plan to achive them and then do the work.

Brad said...

Going to have to agree with Jamie. Universities are great for learning but if you get a BA in Sociology or Psychology you might as well get a MCjob. Unless you are going for your Masters you might as well get into Collage then upgrade for a year after you're done. At least then you'll have some real experience.

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Manitoba Dave said...

Hey, I have to disagree with many of your points in this post.

American institutions are on the whole over-priced for their quality, first of all. Canadian institutions provide equal or better educational opportunities for a fraction of the sticker price.

And *of course* there is little funding available for Canadian students to study abroad rather than at home (though such funding does exist for particular institutions/programs if you know where to look). However this is just as true for American students coming to Canada instead of staying in their own country. It's obviously against the interests of the state to encourage brain drain.

If you want to attend university *in Canada* most institutions provide a whole variety of cash up front in scholarships and bursaries, and there is the student loan program, with all its warts, to help pay your way. In the States, as far as I know, you've basically got private loans and that's about it.

And anyone who gets a degree and can't turn that into a job, particularly in the social sciences or humanities, but also in the physical sciences as well, just isn't doing it right. A University is not a vocational school - it's about developing your skills and knowing how to market them to potential employers.

The fault here is not with the institutions (except that they tend nowadays to churn out mediocre students in droves) but rather in people who think a degree is a career on a platter. You still have to work hard to make yourself attractive to employers.

Anonymous said...

Another problem can be the employers who have been subverted into thinking a university degree is better than experience.

In my field, one which was basically invented by grunts in the late 70's, we now find a mindset that has subverted the 'trade'. "They", with no experience whatsover have declared a designation to be a condition of being able to do the work. A "degree" so to speak. One whi9ch requires updating every year or so with a little cash grab here and there.

I've noticed this kind of thinking to have permeated society where experience and common sense hold no measurable value.

Perhaps universities need to up their requirements , get smaller, and concentrate on teaching with more emphasis on value rather than volume. You don't have a 80 plus average in College, you can't enter the Big U.

Governments need to make Trades more inviting to high School kids , and maybe they should try and attract more manufacturing so those that are sick of books can just become society's drones.

Graham said...

@ Manitoba Dave

I accept your argument but disagree with you that American universities are "overpriced" for their quality.

Yes, some may be overrated. But the best are private institutions. They attract the best professors and the best minds, their student selection process is rigorous and in many cases it is a privalage just to get in.

My point was, funding and programs to help you through university is much more comprehensive down south. Like I said, even if I was from a low-income family, going to a school costing $30 grand a year would be well within my reach.

Trust me, the kinds of money and scholarships available here are peanuts compared to what is available down south. However it should be noted these are proportional...tuition is less here, it makes sense that what is available is worth less. Tuition is more there, it makes sense that scholarships are worth more.

Both yourself and Mr Nobody are completely correct in saying that a university education is not a "degree on a platter" nor does it replace experience. I'm with you still have to market yourself to an employer. Degree or not.

brida said...
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