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Is A "Well-Rounded" Education a Good One? 741

Posted by Cliff
from the stuff-to-talk-about dept.
hendridm asks: "Universities seem to push being well-rounded, or knowing a little bit about everything but nothing about anything in particular. They attempt to teach courses that could help you succeed in your lifelong career, whatever it might be. It seems to me that it would be better to teach skills that would help us in the first 10 years of employment. As a senior Information Systems major in a state university in the Midwest, I can think of countless examples that support this idea." Of course, a well-rounded education can be a good one, it just depends on your definition of 'rounded'. It doesn't exactly do students a favor by exposing them to the forrest until they have a good grasp of the concept of the "tree", which is hedridm's main point. Do any of you know of curriculums that are good examples of a true well-rounded education?

"In my Finance course, I learn how to balance a corporate stock portfolio, but I have no clue how to start a business or pay my employees.

In my System Analysis & Design course, I spend 3 hours constructing data-flow diagrams, entity-relationship diagrams, and Ghantt charts for programs that take around an hour to code!

In my Management course, my professor discusses techniques for being an effective CEO, but I don't even know how to manage a few subordinates, much less an entire company.

In my MIS course, we learn about client-server technology, but when I ask if my peers have tested their web pages on Macintosh, they reply, "Why would I have to do that?" Most of them don't even think of Linux as an operating system, but more as a hacker's toy. Forget about asking them to make it Mozilla or Lynx compatible. They don't want to waste their time. But the University will make sure it is ADA compliant, since any institution that receives federal funding must require this...

Don't most "big picture" lessons come with experience, through person's journey from entry-level employee to a skilled IT/business professional? Wouldn't it make more sense to teach things that will help students early in their careers, like technical skills and other trade/foundation skills that are often required of entry-level, non-management employees? Does the average entry-level IT person need to make the sort of decisions a CEO or CIO needs to make? Do companies really want me to spend more time diagramming a program than I need to program it in the first place? (What about just documenting the code?) Knowing the big picture is good, but how do you get to that level if you don't have any skills?

My question for Slashdot readers is: Is this really what companies want of today's graduates?"

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Is A "Well-Rounded" Education a Good One?

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  • Teach Thinking! (Score:5, Informative)

    by smnolde (209197) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @02:43PM (#2370838) Homepage
    Schools should teach you to think for yourself. Learning any trade for a career is good, but there is always the need for additional training as the years wane by.

    For example, in my chemical engineering school, we were taught to be correct to twenty percent eighty percent of the time.

    Once more thing:
    "Imagination is more important than knowledge." - Albert Einstein
    • Re:Teach Thinking! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by djmcmath (99313) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @03:06PM (#2370930)
      Teaching thinking really begins long before college. If you haven't figured it out by the time you hit college, you probably never will. Learning how to think starts extremely young, and is taught (or should be taught, rather) by your parents. It is primarily their role to make you well-rounded in your foundational years.

      For example -- the graduates from my college tend to be well-rounded thinkers not so much because the school trains them that way, but rather because it weeds out those who do not have the ability. (1100 inductees, 837 graduates, woohoo!) The graduates from Podunk U of South Carolina were probably hicks who were never good at thinking to begin with, so even if you sent them to Harvard or Oxford, they wouldn't somehow magically be transformed into critical thinkers with good leadership ability and an inate charisma.

      Ad: One slightly used soapbox for sale, $.02, or highest bidder...

      • Re:Teach Thinking! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by nano-second (54714) on Monday October 01, 2001 @11:11AM (#2373489)
        The type of thinking required in university is different from most high schools. In high school you have to know how to research and regurgitate ... the teachers tell you exactly what they want you to do. In a good university course you have to research and analyse the information you find. There is much less direction from good professors, rather you are expected to figure out what to do on your own and to realise that there isn't just one right way to do things.

        University is about getting some basic knowledge in a number of fields so you learn how to think about different types of problems. How you tackle a history essay is different from a mathematical proof is different from a studio art assignment. University is meant to make you a well-educated person, not a well-trained person. If you are concerned about your technical skills in a particular field, go to a technical/vocational institute and take a training course. University is not job-training.

    • i agree, and believe that thinking for yourself should be a focus as early in life as possible. public schools really should progress beyond training children for the factories of today and providing day care services.
      it doesn't seem to me that the public school system has really advanced much in the past century or two, given the animosity occasionally demonstrated towards free thought as well as the strong disciplinarian atmosphere that seems to pervade schools.
      in some ways, public education (i mean k-12) seems to have drastically deteriorated, as in an 8th grade final from 1895 [].
    • It's called "Mathematics" (I'm a math grad ;-). Unfortunately, math is so botched before college it's a wonder anyone studies it at all.

      -Paul Komarek
    • Re:Teach Thinking! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by nachoworld (232276) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @04:03PM (#2371163) Homepage
      How do you teach thinking when there are many different types of intelligent thinking?

      I'm just starting med school now and we've had a couple of exams. I'm in class with some of the brightest minds of America. You would think that my class would have similar types of minds, because we all had to go through the same screening process, but we all perform differently on different types of exams.

      I'm not so good at brute force memorization. It takes me much longer than my collegues to study for a biochem exam and i only do average on them. Yet I can rock the molecular bio exam with little studying because it's based on applied knowledge.

      Thinking is very different for different people. It develops at an early age (thank you parents for pushing me) but takes years to develop. i didn't learn how to think for myself until i got to high school. I felt I was behind my classmates until I learned how to do applied knowledge very well. I suppose when others were memorizing, I was using connecting schematics.

      To answer my first question, I would probably go about it through a "well-rounded" education. If I hadn't majored in philosophy as an undergraduate, I'm sure I wouldn't have been good at applied knowledge skills. If I had taken more classes where memorization plays a big role, then maybe I would have been better at that. As of right now, I'm the only one in my class that cannot remember more than 20% of the names of our classmates.
      • Re:Teach Thinking! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by unformed (225214)
        Rote memorization isn't a sign of intellectual ability. Anybody can memorize something, given enough time. As the other reply said, med school is tough but only becuase there's a lot of memorization.

        Understanding the concepts is a sign of intelligence. Being able to use applied knowledge is the same.

        It kills me when people think they're really intelligent just because they got a 4.0 GPA or becuase they did really well because they "memorized the answers", not learned how to dod it....
    • ahh this is the problem.

      Here at BGSU [] they don't want to teach that. They want to teach you how THEY want you to think.

      The president (Sidney Ribeu) has recently instated his "Core Values" program.

      * respect for one another
      * cooperation
      * intellectual and spiritual growth
      * creative imaginings
      * pride in a job well done

      Now, what I am really annoyed w/is his "minority initative" trying to recruit more minorities to the University and promote "diversity". Doing this is not such a problem but the campus itself is primarily caucasion. He is trying to show that we are not this way by making sure that all University ads, etc are showing minority students as the majority. Basically lying to the public about the massive exclusion of non-white students.

      All teachers at the University seem to teach certain topics and want nothing else. It has been said in the Opinion columns of the University paper (The BGNews [] that everyone knows that if you want a good grade on a paper just write about the political agenda that the teacher openly discusses (differs per prof) and you are set. Go against that and you will Fail. Now, myself I haven't seen too much of that (as far as paper writing goes) but I definitly disagree w/the profs openly expressing their political/social views to the class. No one cares if you are Republican/Democrat and if you hate Gore/Bush (for example purposes only).

      In college you are supposed to learn to learn. Not learn how the prof/president feels how you should act outside the University.

      Stop worrying about core fucking values (Kindergarten is for that) and start worrying about teaching us what we should learn.

      That is just my worthless .02

    • You teach thinking by learning to apply what to you know to the full spectrum of Life. Thus a well rounded education in preimary and secondary education is highly recommended. And to be down right, should not be done as something that everyone dreads.

      Drawn up, it almost reminds me, of something I read in a science fiction story.

      • Mastery of communication: Ability to write with a style which is clear and readable - Mastery of the mechanics of written communication-handwriting, spelling, punctuation, usage - Not dependent on slang in communication - Ability to read and comprehend a wide range of literature; can also read newspapers and magazines easily - familiar with their cultural heritage through literature.
      • Mastery of Arts and Culture - Proficient in at least one art form outside of Writing - Strong Familiarity with history and cultures of several peoples not part of one's personal heritage. - Ability to speak well 1 additional language, and basics of a second (sufficient to do well as a traveller)
      • Mastery of fundamental of Science along with their applied fields - for example Biology, Medicine, and Agriculture would go together to somer degree.
      Etc etc etc. with corresponding practical courses along side theory. Mathematics would have to something like navigation, architecture, or similar attached.

      Essentially, this becomes the old style "hacker ethic" as applied to everything else in life, not just technology. Curiousity about everything.

    • Re:Teach Thinking! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by madajb (89253) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @05:32PM (#2371454)
      The problem is people confusing what a college is for with what elementary/high school is for.

      How people here have taken a "General Education" course or a "Western Civilization" course and ended up learning the same thing you learned in High School? How many have taken Math courses that could be transplanted to 11th grade with no changes?

      You should be a "Well-rounded" person when you graduate from High School. Able to talk coherently about current events, understand most of the points of the English language, hell, even be able to find the area under a curve.

      The current "need" for a BS when applying for an entry level job is simply a reflection of the failure of our public schools to make a well-rounded education a requirement for graduation.

      College is for learning a specific skill ie. Doctor/Lawyer/Ph.D whatever, NOT for learning (Yet again) about the vagaries of the 2 party system.

      • Re:Teach Thinking! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by singularity (2031)
        Are you suggesting that people graduating from high school are at the peak of their ability to learn? That they have mastered /how/ to learn and should now move soley on to /what/ to learn?

        If you are taking classes that could be straight out of a high school, your college is guilty of dumbing down their curriculum. As someone with friends and family working in smaller colleges, I know there is a lot of pressure by the student body (and therefore the administration who watch the purse strings and attendence numbers, especially at smaller community-college-type private schools) to dumb down the curriculum.

        There is an astounding gap between the intellectual ability of a high school senior and a college senior in terms of their ability to learn. Colleges are there to further refine your learning ability as you mature.

        I work with some of the most gifted kids in the country (I work at the Illinois Math and Science Academy). These are kids who are going to go to Ivy League schools and places like MIT. And they struggle with some concepts and some of the more college-based ways of approaching subjects. Does this mean that our high schools are failing them? No, it simply means that they have not developed fully intellectually.

        Colleges teach things like getting information from research journals, and learning from those. How to effectively look at original documents and judge their veracity.

        What you are suggesting is that the only difference between a high school senior and a college senior is *what* they know. You obviously have not been around students in a learning environment if you truly believe that.

        Colleges teach *how to learn* the same as elementary and high schools. They simply teach it at a much more advanced level.
  • by Savatte (111615) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @02:45PM (#2370841) Homepage Journal
    It seems to me that it would be better to teach skills that would help us in the first 10 years of employment.
    Do you have any idea what you are going to do for your first 10 years after school? That's quite a long time. Knowing a variety of different subjects is pretty useful if your original career plan doesn't work out.
  • by dsplat (73054) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @02:45PM (#2370845)
    There are a number of skills I wish that I had acquired before I went out into the wider world. I would have liked a course on getting a job. It could have included:

    • Resume writing
    • Researching companies as potential employers
    • Interviewing skills
    • Networking

    Universities could do a lot to help new graduates entering the workforce. Since jobs today are far from employment for life, those skills would prove useful a number of times.
    • My school [] has a well-respected career development center that is very connected to the corporate world and alums. Perhaps your school had a career center also, but didn't advertise very well. Just a thought...

    • Or...

      * You can be right, or you can be rich.
      (Humility 101)

    • by internic (453511) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @03:41PM (#2371069)

      The point is that a University is an institution of higher learning, not a job training center. Their goal is to impart knowledge and expand the scope of knowledge, not to get you a particular job. The former role is of course their historical origin, and, I think is very worthwhile, because it is that attitude that continues expansion of knowledge in many fields.

      This especially applies to fields that are not terribly marketable, such as some of the humanities, arts, and pure math and science. While these may not be cash cows directly, their developement does lead eventually to innovation with commercial or political application, or enrichment of the culture as a whole. I think these are very worthwhile, even essential goals that must be maintained. Many people at Universities these days (both students and faculty) want to turn them into vocational school. While I think the school definitely has to provided guidence to resources, it is wrong to pervert an institution of higher learning into a job training center.

      I think there's certainly nothing wrong with wanting an education that just trains you for a job. There are certainly places for that, places more like DeVry or Strayer, so you might look into something like that and/or interships.

      Finally, I think that they don't teach all the neccessarry skills for an entry level position also as a pragmatic matter. They simply can't. The variety of requirements for different jobs are too large or it requires an amount or kind of experience (say coding a major project), that they can't provide in the limited setting of classes. I think they feel that they can't teach you the specifics, so the best solution is to teach you the things that will allow you to learn the skills you will need, and integrate them into a coherent framework.

      • Good show! I couldn't agree more. The purpose of a well-rounded education is to have an arsenal of rhetorical and logical weapons on hand for every situation. AND IT WORKS. Unfortunately there are a lot of uneducated folks running around touting the glories of a paractical education. One that prepares the student for a job....we used to have that type of school. It was called the guild system and was eventually replaced by the better, more adaptive school system we have now. It is interesting that on a message board with so many smart people, there are still idiots who don't think learning about art or language or history is important. Granted, it is LESS important if you are a CS major than if you are a history major but education has intrinsic value of its own far removed from the dollar sign.

        Studying many things does NOT make one ignorant of all of them (as the lead stories writer so erroneously pointed out) it makes one well informed and gives one a broad bas from which he can draw knowlege and expand in many directions. A person who is trained in one thing only will not be able to synthesize information from many sources, will not be able to branch out and will be continually trapped into whatever their "practical" education gave them. Furthermore, it isn't as if there is no specialization in college....did the original writer graduate, I wonder?....once one declares his major, that becomes his focus. In the first two years I was "well rounded" taking foreing language, history, english, astronomy, psychology, chemical biology among other things. I declared as a history major and that become my primary (though not singular) focus.

        A University education is meant to make one EDUCATED! The purpose is not to make one a great job candidate. To elevate the human race as a whole, and rescue our culture from the gutter, it is neccessary for each one of us to become as enlightened and educated about as many subjects as possible while maintaining a core sbject we are excellent in. For those who want practicality to come from their after-high-school education:

        Get your second rate education at Devry and shut the fuck up.

        • by rgmoore (133276) <> on Sunday September 30, 2001 @07:35PM (#2371757) Homepage
          One that prepares the student for a job....we used to have that type of school. It was called the guild system and was eventually replaced by the better, more adaptive school system we have now.

          I think that you miss two important points. First, as valuable as a modern education is to somebody who learns from it, not everyone has the intelligence or personality to benefit from it. Having an alternative system so that people who don't fit in to the modern educational system are able to learn something and become productive members of society is very valuable. Second, that system still does exist and is actually quite strong still. Vocational education and even straight apprenticeship programs still exist; many union jobs, for instance, follow more that approach more or less closely. Also, much as it pains me to point it out, graduate school is much, much closer to a traditional apprenticeship program than most academics are willing to admit.

    • There are a number of skills I wish that I had acquired before I went out into the wider world. I would have liked a course on getting a job. It could have included:
      • Resume writing
      • Researching companies as potential employers
      • Interviewing skills
      FWIW, I took a course [] over the summer that went into these areas (among others). For the catalog under which I'm graduating (I'm on the "ten-year graduation plan" :-) ), this is a required course. The degree requirements [] in the current catalog (and the past two or three) haven't included it, however; instead of ENG 404 (technical writing), CSC 472 (software design and development, which is primarily a group-project class) is now required. Odds are fair that you have something similar to ENG 404 available; if you're interested in it, you should be able to take it as one of your open electives...or maybe even just for sh*ts and grins, if you're so inclined (it was an easy A, and as a summer-session class, it only took five weeks).
    • by solios (53048) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @04:42PM (#2371294) Homepage
      I should know, I took the course when I was at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. It was folded into the flat portfolio class for some reason, and went over the *basics* of how to go about doing everything you want out of a course like that. I passed it through social engineering - I made friends with the instructor, cut her under-the-table deals in the print lab and scan lab, and pushed prints for any student she sent me. And I gave a lecture to my class on printing above 72 DPI (I was the ONLY computer animation student at the time that knew how to print at 300 dpi!). So I passed.

      A class is basically an expensive cliff's notes for something you're going to need in real life. There's no better way to pick it up than hands-on experience, and no - repeat- NO- class can do that for you. Let me address these proposed course points of yours from my personal experience:

      Resume Writing: the ProDev class sucked for this, being incredibly basic. How did I get a decent resume? Simple- when work was slowing down at my current job, my boss told me "make up your resume and let me see it." So I did. He shot down about half of it and suggested changes. I made them. Repeat until he was happy with it- THEN he told me to run it by the assistant chair of Education, who has a Masters in English. He had a few suggestions. By the time I passed the gauntlet, my Resume rocked the casbah.

      Researching Companies and Potential Employers: I've never had to do this, actually- it's been calls out of the blue, or emails from friends saying "hey, this guy's looking for...." since day one. This is a good thing- I live in Pittsburgh, and none of the local companies look like anything I'd want to work for. I'm happy where I'm at.

      Interviewing Skills: This is the essence of social engineering. If you don't convince the interviewer that you're a guy who not only does the job well, but can get along with him, you should be fine. If you click, you're almost guranteed in. If you're not laid back and congenial, and don't have some social skills, forget it. I have friends that are a hell of a lot better at various aspects of what I do, but they couldn't talk a rock into sitting still.

      Networking: What it ALL boils down to. No one ever got a job without knowing somebody- unless the case is 100% pure "we need somebody NOW." Case in point- my first supervisor at my job was a guy like that. I got in because he knew me. My next supervisor got in because he knew him (both of these guys left), and a future coworker is getting in by virtue of strong recommendations from myself and my last supervisor. That's three people getting jobs because they knew one guy that was in the right place at the right time.

      I was barely competent when I got in- I was the only guy this person knew - and that everyone he asked knew- who could do the job. I picked up the details as I went along, and forget nascent capabilities into actual skills. Having friends in good places can only get you so far- your actual skills are going to carry you the rest of the way. So it's not enough to have a lot of friends OR be amazingly good at what you're doing- you gotta have BOTH, or you're going to be having a hell of a time of it.

      That's my experience- which I'm slowly melding into a collection of essays with intent to stick on a website when I have enough of them.

      If you have questions, replace AT with @ and ask away.
    • There are a number of skills I wish that I had acquired before I went out into the wider world. I would have liked a course on getting a job. It could have included: Resume writing Researching companies as potential employers Interviewing skills
      My undergrad alma mater (and I'm sure many other colleges) did indeed teach this kind of stuff, but not as part of the curriculum: they were optional short tutorial classes held after normal school hours for seniors. I'm currently an MS student at a midwestern Univ also, I'm sure I've seen bulletin board postings for resume writing and interviewing skills. Though having been in the workforce for 13 years, I think I know enough to get by.

      I agree with the other poster who said that university is not a trade school. But at the same time, there should be some assistance with making the transition from the academic to the working world.

  • Public Vs. Private (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ekrout (139379) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @02:48PM (#2370852) Journal
    First off, the differences between a public and a private university cannot be tossed aside. When you're not just a number, but a well-embraced member of an intimate community of learning, the experience can be amazingly more valueable.
  • A directed education (Score:5, Informative)

    by Coryoth (254751) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @02:48PM (#2370853) Homepage Journal
    I'm from New Zealand, and in combinationn with education directions there, along with with my acceptance into honours programs at University I completed a Masters degree in Mathematics only taking 5 (small/short) courses that were not mathematics. All the other courses I took were physics courses (as I was contemplating doing physics honours at the time.

    In some ways this benefitted me greatly - it enabled me to complete a Masters' degree by the time I was 21, and thoroughally cover a wide variety of subjects within mathematics. In other ways I feel that I really did miss out.
    I enrolled for courses in German literature, Poetry, and philosophy, but simply had to drop them very early due to course overload (I was doing 1.6 times a full load at the time). I would have loved to have had an opportunity to properly pusue those subjects. As it is I have simply done my best to do some self directed learning - but it would have been nice to have more direction etc. in the matter.

    Fortunately I had friends who did take a wide variety of courses (and I'm widely read anyway) so that helped provide some direction for my extra studies.

    So, having taken an extremely directed course of study, and having studied a diverse range of subjects outside of that field, here's my advice:

    Ideally a directed course of study is best, but people should be encouraged to take a few courses that are well outside their fundamental area. I don't believe in mandating what those courses are. They should be alternate areas of interest for the student. For me it was poetry and literature. For others it may be film, biology, maths, or history. It is worth doing a little bit of something else though, and it should be encouraged.


  • by gouldtj (21635) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @02:48PM (#2370855) Homepage Journal
    I think that too many people look to not have a well rounded education. I remember people in my CS classes, where all they wanted to do is learn how to code. The idea of learning how the compiler works they considered a waste of time. Who cares? And the hardware? They really didn't care about that. I recently had a CS from Standford tell me that the I couldn't get the 4th bit from an integer because the computer stores that in decimal.

    Some of your examples are valid, but many are not. I think that you have to realize that it is total imposible to build a Gantt chart for an entire project in a semester. Just like it would be imposible to build a entire peice of useful software. There are always corners that are cut. You need to yourself, abstract what is being taught into the general principles. Those don't change with time, your first 10 years or anything else.

    I think people look at college as learning the details, it is not about the details, they are unimportant. The idea is that you need to learn the principles.
    • I think that too many people look to not have a well rounded education. I remember people in my CS classes, where all they wanted to do is learn how to code. The idea of learning how the compiler works they considered a waste of time. Who cares? And the hardware? They really didn't care about that.I recently had a CS from Standford tell me that the I couldn't get the 4th bit from an integer because the computer stores that in decimal.

      Ahh, there's the problem! You should be looking for Stanford grads, not Standford! *grin* Reminds me of the Dilbert cartoon where Dilbert's boss introduces a new manager from "Harfurd University."

      But seriously, I know these people, too. My upper level CS classes were full of people completely incapable of making simple changes to their .cshrc file without blowing up their environment. They banged out crappy code they mostly stole from the web, cheated on their tests, generally got the same grades as I did, but with a lot less hard work, and some got jobs making $65k+/yr right after graduation. Maybe they learned more from their general ed classes than I learned from Operating Systems, Compiler Construction, File Processing, Programming Languages, Database Systems, Database Theory, etc., etc.

      A well-rounded education is one in which other skills are learned that are not necessarily directly related to one's major. Intelligence alone doesn't ensure a well-paying job. A "well-rounded" education teaches you how to think abstractly, analyze complex problems, interact with others, perhaps to even understand them better (and manipulate them to your advantage -- I'm not exactly joking).

      I think people look at college as learning the details, it is not about the details, they are unimportant. The idea is that you need to learn the principles.

      This is true, but many colleges (mostly public institutions) are pressured by industry to teach "the details" because they don't want to have independent thinkers that want to design the next operating system, ORDBMS, etc., they want productive drones that bang out code, or set up a router, or whatever needs doing for the moment. Students also apply pressure in this direction, because they want to have jobs when they graduate.
  • by pgpckt (312866) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @02:49PM (#2370856) Homepage Journal
    At my college Clemson University [], this is an ongoing debate. The University is considering making the general education requirements more flexable so you can take courses more in line with your major. This is probably going to occur, but I oppose it.

    I believe in the General Education requirements. Why? Because everyone that graduates from a University should have some basic skills that can help them regardless of their profession of choice. People wanting to go into non-computer related professions should still have a vauge idea of how to use a computer. People going into computer related fields should be able to appreciate literature. Everyone in every type of profession should be able to preform some of the same basic skills.

    Not only does this allow any college graduate to be able to converse intelegently about any subject, but it allows people the ability to change jobs in the future without going back to school. Because prospective employers know that any college graduate has basic skills, there is potential for starting level jobs in fields unrelated to one's degree. Without general education requirements, none of this is possible.

    We all should, upon graduating from college, know the basic facts about everything. Once we know the basics, we have the foundation to learn whatever our heart desires in the future. Without general education requirements, people graduating in a given field will know more about that field from the start, but the cost is the lack of the basic knowledge of other fields, which provides for a very narrow minded person.
    • I couldn't agree more with you. Here at NC State University, many if not most of our Computer Science graduates are, in fact, functionally illiterate. Gifted C++ and Java programmers, they nonetheless lack even the most rudimentary writing and networking abilities. I personally would not employ a single one of them, no matter the project. Why would I want a Big Dumb Cracker from the Carolina foothills who couldn't write an intelligent, cogent email to save his or her life, when I can get a polished individual with the same skill set, who also knows how to communicate with people?

      I believe that this hints at the (unfortunately) changing role of many higher learning institutions. At many colleges, there has always traditionally been this dichotomy between the information one learns which can turn one into a more worldy, knowledgeable individual, and what sneaks its way into the curriculum because it can prepare you for a certain occupation. I personally don't feel that colleges should be methodically turned into white collar trade schools, although that is inarguably the current trend.

      When we're left with nothing but skilled, IT professionals who can't answer the first 4 questions on "Who Want's to Be a Millionaire?", then we'll know that our colleges have failed us.
    • by JohnsonWax (195390) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @04:04PM (#2371173)
      A well-rounded education is good, but is often not implemented well. All too often, a university throws together a collection of courses that are humanities related, social sciences related, etc. and asks all students to take some to be well-rounded. Unfortunately, it rarely works well.

      Students focus on a specific field of study (hopefully) because they are interested in that field. If you ask a history major to take physics or a physicist to take history, the student will likely be uninterested in the course and probably will take almost nothing away from the course.

      What is lacking is breadth in the context of the student's field of interest. If you want a physicist to take something from history, the course needs to be taught from the perspective of a physicist: How has science influenced historical developments at various times in various places? The course can be taught with the expectation that the student has a high level of knowledge about science and the focus allows the student to see why history is important as the student can see how they may play a larger role.

      Not only does the student learn some facts (which are actually irrelevant - we learn facts as we need to learn facts) but gains an appreciation of why a broad education is important and can see more directly how it is relevant. That appreciation leads to lifelong learning, which is really the ultimate goal of a college education.
  • by (184378) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @02:49PM (#2370858) Journal
    Isn't the whole idea of education to teach you how to learn, and not what to know?

    Granted, you will remember a good portion of the material presented when I'm being taught how to learn. But that's not really that important.

    A well rounded education is going to be better anyways. People have terrible writing skills, and at least if they have to take more classes they should improve them (in theory -- but how you can get to college and not know algebra or basic writing skills is a failure of elementary/high school education).
  • No. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sheetsda (230887) <doug,sheets&gmail,com> on Sunday September 30, 2001 @02:50PM (#2370860)
    As a university student majoring in Computer Science, I have been made to take classes such as Greek Mythology and American History. I'm not paying my tuition every semester so that they can waste my time (and money!) teaching me things that I'll never use in my career and that I either could've learned in high school or on my own if the need arises. I'm paying them, if I want to learn about history, I'll tell them so. It shouldn't be the other way around.
    • Re:No. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by NonSequor (230139)
      They make you take things not related to your major because that makes you a better person. There is nothing more pathetic than a person who only understands one subject. Look at everyone on Slashdot. If you just want to learn enough to get a job then maybe you should consider a two year technical school like DeVry.
    • Re:No. (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Heem (448667)
      If you just want to learn what to do in an IT position - go out and get certifications and don't waste your (or your parents) money on college. It's Greek Mythology and American history that sets those with a degree aside from those who just go out and get certs.

    • Re:No. (Score:2, Informative)

      by riley (36484)
      Then attend a trade school. Universities teach a broad range of subjects, and the best will always make you learn things you would've have chosen.

      Trust me on this: I have a CS degree and most of a Masters in CS, and I've worked in the field for a good while. All those things that are directly important to your career are less important to it than you think. You end up learning most of what your career requires while you are working, because you need it.

      It is the information (and more importantly, how to place any new information in a larger context) that can make you special with regards to what you can do in yor career. And that is what making students learn about a broad range of subjects teaches.

      I used to think as you do, when I was still an undergrad. When I entered the real world, I found that what I thought would get me ahead while I was a student was way off base.
    • Re:No. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ClarkEvans (102211) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @03:32PM (#2371037) Homepage
      As a university student majoring in Computer Science, I have been made to take classes such as Greek Mythology and American History... I'm paying them, if I want to learn about history, I'll tell them so. It shouldn't be the other way around.

      Universities are *certifying* bodies that grant you a certificate once you have demonstrated a particular level of intellectual maturity. The whole point of a University is to expose you to ideas that you would not otherwise expose yourself to. Those ideas that you are exposed to is what your employer is paying for -- they are paying for critical thinking.

      That being said, you should stop poo-pooing your American History papers and dig into the Federalist Papers. There is alot of ideas packed in there about how to run organizations and talk of the human condition. These topics are valueable. As well as the discusion techniques you learn in class and dealing with other classmates. Hamilton, Jay, and Madison are serious thinkers. You can learn alot from them.

    • Ignore Greek Mythology and you will not be able to recognize testosterone as Ares, and the rest of the modern scientific pantheon will escape your grasp. Ignore American History and you will not know freedom.

      Ignore liberal learning and you will be a simple tool. People with degrees are looked on as leaders, you had better learn what that means while you can. Do you really know what other people want out of life? Have you thought about what you want out of life? Money, mentioned in every one of your sentances, is not a very good answer. If you don't figure these things out now, other people will have an advatage over you. Think about how that will work with your career.

      Don't think that you can lock yourself in a room and get things right. Some intersting self educated folks I can think of are Adolf Hitler (he thought like you too, hated French!), and the Unibomber (ended up hating everyone). Peer checks are important, and a good teacher's guidance is invaluable.

      Find courses where you can express yourself honestly and recieve honest criticism. Propaganda classes ARE worthless. Classes that teach you how to analyze things and present them to others are valuable. Classes that force you to understand and catagorize unfamiliar ideas are useful. It will serve you and your friends later.

    • Re:No. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by trcooper (18794) <coop AT redout DOT org> on Sunday September 30, 2001 @05:41PM (#2371484) Homepage
      You can take any class you want. If you want a degree you have to fill the requirements. If you just want a certification, get a certification. If you want a degree, you have to be educated, not trained. That doesn't happen on your schedule, because some things need to be standard.

      As someone who is in the position to hire people, I don't look so much at certifications, and I don't even look so much at degrees. What I look for is a broad experience base, and the willingness to learn new things.

      If you came to me looking for a job saying that you took all the courses for your degree except the general education classes, because they were a waste of time, there's no way I'd hire you. Says to me that you don't have patience, and aren't open minded enough to take on tasks that may require learning new skills. May be wrong, but that's tough, employers are going to call them as they see them.
  • by Gogl (125883) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @02:50PM (#2370861) Journal
    The school I'm going to (University of Rochester []) is very light on specific required courses. You have to take one writing course freshman year, under the logic that no matter what you do with your life you should be able to write. Besides, that, you have your major and minor (or double major or double minor), and then you must satisfy a "cluster" (which is sort of like a mini-minor) in the area(s) that your major/minor are not in. If you major in something that is a liberal art, you must have a more technical cluster. You still get to choose which one though. It allows you to diversify and such, but not have your entire schedule dictated to you (unless you're one of those silly premeds).
  • by gjohnson (1557)
    There is a difference between education and training. A liberal arts school is supposed to provide a well rounded education -- to provide you with the tools you need to learn and be self-sufficient. Training should teach you how to do one thing well.
  • It is entirely appropriate that universities (notice the name of the insitution) should attempt to teach you more general skills. Their aim is not to help you to succeed in the first 10 years of your career, but to teach you the life skills you will need to lead a full and fruitful life. To me, this is far more important. I want programmers to understand a bit about ethics, philosophy, social sciences, and, yes, even how to write. After all, programmers in one of my fields of research (medical informatics) have the power to influence how people receive medical care, and the quality of the care they get. I want them to consider more than just bits and bytes.

    The skills the original poster discusses are narrow professional skills, and if that is all you want to learn you can attend a professional school (like ITT), or learn it on your own. It is worth asking, though, why those degrees, or why a lack of a degree, leaves you at a disadvantage. Many of those who hire recognize the value that a well-rounded person brings to their institution.

    Over the course of your career you will find that it is far easier to learn the next popular programming language than it is to learn basic critical thinking skills, or to grasp the greater social and political contexts for your work. You can use those narrow technogolies much more effectively when you understand their general significance.

  • Part of the problem is what exactly is supposed to be meant by well rounded. There's a lot to be said for forcing highly focused students to take courses outside of their primary interests just so that they don't become excessively one-dimensional. I certainly feel that having been required to do so as a student was ultimately beneficial. OTOH, most of the people I know think that I'm interested in too many things already, so I'm not sure if I'm strong evidence or not.

    But getting good results also depends on the requirements being reasonable and well thought out. Forcing people to take classes for which they have no preparation is pointless even if you do accept the idea of being well-rounded. You're not going to learn much if you don't have the background to get the most out of a class. But that's a potential weakness in any curriculum. I've certainly heard of a lot of tightly focused programs that tend to push students into classes for which they have inadequate grounding, so it's not unique to this kind of program. Blame it on stupidity in choosing the wrong courses within the topic, not on the general idea of requiring students to be well-rounded.

  • Seriously. What you want is a vocational education, so leave the university, because that's not what a university education is about. A university education is designed to ground you in general principles that will be of value through your lifetime, as long as you have the intelligence to adapt and apply those principles to whatever challenges you face. It is not designed to teach you specific skills so that you can immediately land a job. A reasonably intelligent person can quickly learn whatever specific skills are needed for a job while on the job.
  • Foundations (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JanneM (7445) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @03:01PM (#2370908) Homepage
    The most important skills to learn in college or at university are foundational subjects. For people in Computer Science and similar, this means mathematics (there is no such thing as too much math), writing (what's the use of an idea if you can't communicate it?), and the core subjects of your chosen field. What specific programming languages you use is totally incidental; with a good grounding in programming you can pick up a new language in a couple of weeks.

    This is not to say peripheral subjects is not a good idea - in moderation. Take a semester learning something non-technical just for fun. Among CS students in Lund, psychology and philosophy are both very popular (and a semester of psychology is what landed me in cognitive science...). The point is not to learn a useful work skill during that semester, it's to pig out on something just because it's fun to learn. The point is to do it in moderation; having peripheral subjects half of all your college time seems way too much.


    • I have a ComSci degree from an accredited university, and I disagree to some extent.

      Math and Physics is overrated. The skills I use most have to do with logic and dissecting algorithms. This has more to do with Geometry than Differential Calculus.

      Writing skills are underrated and should have been stressed more because they are so absolutely critical in our field. I only had one writing course labeled 'technical writing' but turned out to be how to write business proposals.

      The course I had on Software Engineering was a complete joke and had nothing to do with the subject.

      At the time I graduated in '91 there seemed to be a disconnect between ComSci and Management Information Systems. The MIS dept tended to teach real world skills which were useful in jobs, and ComSci was trying to teach develop new university professors.

      That has changed somewhat over time, but probably not by much.
  • by ClarkEvans (102211) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @03:05PM (#2370924) Homepage
    I watched a friend (business major) take a programming course. They were teaching this person all kinds of low-level chores. What the individual took from the class: "Programming is tedious grunt work" Does he respect programmers? No. Does he have any more of a clue what goes into programming? No. Instead he thinks he knows about programming, aka "slinging code".

    I think the problem is his class was too "applied" and ignored the basics. He wasn't taught anything about the history of computing, use the words "Babbage", "Turing", "Shockley", etc., and they draw a blank stare. For him, computers just emerged from thin air. He doesn't know how a transitor works. Thus, when it comes time to explain anything to him, changes in the industry, how it may impact his business, he just doesn't have the background. However, he does know how to print "Hello World" ten times. How practical.

    In the other end of the spectrum, I was not encouraged to dig mightly into English and History. Both of which I've had to play "catch-up" due to years of neglect. In high school we completely ignore Contract Law, instead we focus Business class on investing and accounting. Admittedly, both of these can be useful, however my high-school business class ('87) completely left out contract law. What is business *but* contract law? I've signed many more contracts than I've had dollars to invest or accounting books to balance.

    Also, they should renew the focus on civics. I recently found out that the same friend of mine didn't have a civics class. He has never read the constitution nor had a discussion of its importance beyond "US is great, we are a free country." Admittedly, I goofed off in my civics class but I do remember the day we talked about the constitution. And on Sept 11, I recalled a very long, detailed class discussion about our foreign policy. Helpful it was. History of Politics is very useful indeed.
  • by HongPong (226840) <hongpong@h o n g p o n g . c om> on Sunday September 30, 2001 @03:05PM (#2370927) Homepage
    Today on Ask Slashdot, we ask, "What is this 'liberal-arts college' thing currently hot in tech circles? Seeing as how giant swaths of tech workers who only studied their technical fields in college are now out of work without useful skills, many wish they'd gotten a more 'well-rounded' education, but have no idea what it means. Today we'll explore the possibilities, remote as they may seem, of getting a well-rounded education. There must be a few people out in /. land who went to these so-called "liberal arts" places, what do you have to say?"
  • by anomaly (15035) <tom DOT cooper3 AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday September 30, 2001 @03:06PM (#2370933)
    I know that this carries the emacs/vi type of flamefest capacity, but here's my take:

    Specific skills are only REALLY directly applicable for a very short span of time. By the time you get to the place where you could use the "practical" stuff, it will be deprecated. (e.g. If your school taught you VB programming, by the time you graduate and get a job, people would expect you to know WSH or C#)

    In my school I had the benefit of a curriculum which tried to balance practical information (how serial ports worked) with theory (signal propagation delay.) When I graduated I was able to make cables, because I had a bit of experience doing that, but I also understood the requisite theory behind protocols.

    When I learned that ARCNet was a token-passing protocol, and ethernet was csma it helped me to make the transition. I knew more than just that the ARCNet adapters needed a unique MAC and that Ethernet adapter MACs were hard-coded. I knew enough to easily make the transition to the "new" technology - the same was true when I began to work with TokenRing.

    Additionaly, the object theory I learned has been greatly helpful in my understanding of components, layers, directories, code libraries, etc. If I had merely learned the practical technology application, I would have been poorly prepared for the innovative technologies that were to come.

    One thing to keep in mind is that what you learn in school is foundational for what you will learn once employed. You will learn throughout your career. If you do not, you will lose your job (or wish that you'd lose your job.) University is the place to learn more about learning. Those skills will benefit you for a lifetime. You may start out at the same level as the person who went to trade school to learn programming, but your deeper understanding will allow you to move up much more quickly than that person.

    Finally, and most importantly, it's people skills and not technical acumen that determine your earning potential. If you define success as title and pay, learn to interact with others and that will help you attain your goals much more rapidly than being able to code more widgets than the next guy. (Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People is an excellent book that those business majors are reading right now. That's why they are the "B" part of PHB.)

    PS - God loves you and longs for relationship with you. If you'd like to know more about this, please email me at tom_cooper at bigfoot dot com.
  • by Gus (2568)
    This is a debate that continually occurs amongst the faculty of reputable institutions. Should Computer Science departments become vocational institutions, or remain academic in the traditional sense?

    The university [] where I did my CS degree [] maintains that CS majors, like other students in the college of Letters & Sciences, take a majority of classes outside the major - 80 credits of the 120 needed for a baccalaureate degree must be outside the declared major. As a result, CS grads need to have a decent background in literature, history, hard sciences, and social sciences. This does a lot for critical thinking skills. The opposing view is that CS students should be "prepared for industry", which essentially boils down to teaching some vendor's tools exclusively - Oracle DBA classes, MS programming tools, Cisco certifications.

    I'm firmly of the opinion that CS students should be kept in the traditional academic program. Good analytical skills are worth more in the long run than knowing how to use vendor tools right out of the box. Bear in mind that the average adult goes through seven career changes in a lifetime - a general education will still be useful to me when the paradigms of today come crashing down.

  • Most of the cited examples are of specifics being taught out of context. So isn't the problem more one of not being provided the context - the big picture - first? Or at least of not being taught the details so that they add up to a big picture?

    From one critique, departments and courses are much too fragmented - far too many small pictures incoherently presented. It's worth keeping in mind that knowledge wasn't approached that way until the last century - scholars of the 18th century had a much broader vantage. Making colleges into trade schools isn't bad for some students, if you can be sure that the trades they learn will still be around, and the skills taught pertinent, in five or ten years. In my own experience, I've done fine in technology after not studying it at all, because I learned how to learn at The Evergreen State College [] in Olympia, WA - which structures everything without disciplinary boundaries. People who can work across and between disciplines are often more valuable than those who can merely work within them. We've got far more specialists than people who can meaningfully and profitably coordinate them. The bust wasn't because of a lack of technical talent, but because most of what passed for 'big picture' was too thinly conceived.

    On the other hand, a lot of folk from Evergreen end up going up the street to Microsoft for employment - so the untraditional structure of the curriculum may have some small reflection in the muddled structure in the code from that shop. But I'd lay more of the blame at Harvard's Gates.

  • While some people seem to only want to know what they need to say write a great C program and develop software I think there is something important in learning to think.

    You may not think the classes your taking are worth very much to your career. You may not enjoy the subject matter. You may not even want to be in school. But if you really take the meaning of what is being taught you have learned to think that much more.

    I don't really believe you will ever be prepared for a job coming out of college without some sort of serious extra cirricular activities in your chosen career field.

    A college degree should prove your trainable and that you know how to learn.

    Long term, I would rather hire someone who proves they can learn over someone who has a narrow focus on some limited subset of technology.

    We may not be programming Java in 20 years, but we will still be learning and still be progressing with technology.

    Having the ability to communicate and write and express your thoughts clearly are just as important as knowing what the finalize method does in Java. Unless you plan on working alone all your life you have to communicate and work with others.

    I started programming right out of highschool, while I was in highschool actually. I understand the frustration of not really understanding the technology at play right away. I was just like most college graduates only coming out of high school in that respect. Now I have a couple of years of college under my belt and the changes in the developer I am today and the developer I was four years ago are amazing.

    It is just a complete perspective thing that you really can't have until you have been out there in the real world. It gives me complete 100% appreciation for every college class I ever took, even religion. Now I can stand around and know the difference in the two major muslim factions without feeling clueless.

    My main point is, you learn to learn and you get perspective on life and whats out there in college. You don't really gain a ton of ultra important skills until your in the work world. I did it backwards. I worked right outta high school programming, and have filled in the gaps with college at night. To each their own, I guess.

  • by maggard (5579) <> on Sunday September 30, 2001 @03:12PM (#2370957) Homepage Journal
    The question seems more debating the value between a "Universal" education (hence University) or a trade-oriented education like, er, Trade School or vocational or other terms.

    Frankly as all studies show folks changing careers several times in their lifetimes to train exclusively for one type of position seems to me to be needlessly limiting. Furthermore the assumption that an advanced education is only obtained as a means of advancing one's-self in a profession is a remarkably presumptive one.

    The skills that have been invaluable in my life weren't the slot-A/tab-B mechanical stuff that seems to be advocated but rather means of thought, formulating opinions, understanding situations, making decisions, and just understanding the world generally. Knowing how to learn, resources and techniques for obtaining and structuring further knowledge, as well as familiarity with the various world-views one will interact with in life (both professionally and privately) are things that are well developed in a broad education.

    That these lessons are often taught in framework makes them appear directly relevant to their subject but these are broadly applicable skills even if not always approached as such. Understanding how to manage folks gives one insights into the actions and goals of your own management. Learning certain types of finances provides an entry into understanding all other related types of finance. Exposure to a broad range of subjects allows one to make informed decisions about what is interesting or amenable to one's intellect and what is less so.

    By the way, I'm an IS professional who was seduced away from college by the lure of earning good money and a more interesting life then studying topics I wasn't interested in. I don't regret the course of my life and feel that I've obtained an excellent education from my own efforts but would appreciate at some later time the opportunity to once again devote myself to less-distracted learning in an environment so amenable.

    I've recently begun running into barriers resulting from my not having a degree (of any sort) and have so far been able to negotiate these but they are becoming more and more bothersome. Indeed some peers in the same situation have begun obtaining cheap degrees simply in order to appease employers.

    Back to the main point however, there are many folks with different needs and goals and a vast array of institutions for learning. It seems to me there's very little chance of determining a generalized answer and everyone need rather to determine what is right for their own unique needs and goals.

  • No, I don't think this is what companies want. Companies (at least ones that stay in business long enough to pay their employees) want results, and last I checked, they don't care how you accomplish them, as long as they're delivered on time and on budget.

    Isn't it amazing how the education system in this country is so screwed up?! It starts in public education and ends after your first two years of college. This whole "well-rounded" thing is there to hold you back an additional 2 years before you go into the workforce. "Know a little about a lot" and "widen your horizons" are just excuses. It's impossible to teach people everything they need beforehand. School isn't an initialization routine, yet for some reason, this is what schools try to do.

    To be fair, there is the rare professor who teaches something beyond the subject matter. Most teachers basically program us with case statements, by drilling information into our heads and then testing us on it. This is nothing more than memorization. How many of you have crammed for a mid-term or final only to completely forget all the information one week later? This is because you didn't actually learn anything, and that's why the education system sucks.

    What do I suggest? I mentioned the rare professor in the previous paragraph. This kind of prof teaches you how to teach yourself. Let's say I'm coding a tight loop and I need to learn some detail of switching theory or something. What do I do, cram for a test and get certification? No! I open the book on the subject, read about it, and then do what the book says. It never fails. You can learn almost anything better on your own (and by doing) than in school. Just like literature... I hated that class because they made us read some boring stuff, but nowadays, I routinely pick up a good classic and get all sorts of neat knowledge out of it, because it's something I want, not an assignment that's taking away from my Saturday night.

    So how do you teach how to learn? You make the students think in directions they didn't know existed before. Why is a hammer built the way it is? What was Paul Revere's occupation (and consequently, what was he doing at midnight, before his ride?) Why does the website of Le Grand Louvre depict certain pieces of art? (Why those pieces instead of others?) Who is the source of the news we read and see and hear? (Who is that source's source? Where is the root of all sources?) These things aren't "just there"--people made decisions and took certain actions, but most folks don't think in these terms. That's because most folks were taught to think in tunnel vision mode. It's very difficult to get out of that mode once you're in it--try teaching a BASIC programmer C and you'll understand what I mean.

    The problem with our education system is that we're taught to expect the teacher to know the answer, and we memorize case statements--we're essentially being programmed like computers that have web browsers built into the CPU. (Hey, it's a well-rounded operating system.) We should be taught how to actually use our brains and teach ourselves whatever we need to know on the fly. Like I said, school isn't an initialization routine.

    • No, I don't think this is what companies want. Companies (at least ones that stay in business long enough to pay their employees) want results, and last I checked, they don't care how you accomplish them, as long as they're delivered on time and on budget.

      I think that's dependent upon the company and the position within the company. I work for a newspaper and I can immediately see about three classes of employee.

      The first is the post press packager or carrier. We need a lot of these people to learn a rote task quickly and execute it quickly and reliably. It's hard to argue over "training" when the paper promises a neatly folded copy on the correct doorsteps with the correct ad inserts by 5:30 every morning.

      At the other extreme, we have people like our press operators. Newspaper presses are large, complex, multistory machines and are evidently very sensitive in their adjustment. The apprenticeship to be a printer is about four years long. It's not to say they aren't useful in that whole time, but they're considered in training for that amount of time.

      Somewhere in the middle, we have my dept., New Media. While we expect some expertise coming in (HTML, AP copyediting skills, news judgment), we don't expect everyone will know every aspect of the operation. I believe we expect a new employee to be at or near expected productivity in about three to six months.

      >>Isn't it amazing how the education system in this country is so screwed up?! It starts in public education and ends after your first two years of college. This whole "well-rounded" thing is there to hold you back an additional 2 years before you go into the workforce. "Know a little about a lot" and "widen your horizons" are just excuses. It's impossible to teach people everything they need beforehand. School isn't an initialization routine, yet for some reason, this is what schools try to do

      One of my instructors wrote about a similar mindset among her students about five years ago. Basically, she wanted to present material and coursework that challenged her students' abilities, experiences and resources. A large part of the students pushed back on the grounds that, with work and other classes, they didn't "have time" to do anything more than skim the daily reading material and show up to class. To be sure, my university was/is a commuter school with a high average undergraduate age (26-28) and a low on campus population (900 out of 25,000). And I think the "student attitude" is why folks like myself sometimes wonder if that two years of upper division work could have been spent doing something more productive.

      Put it this way. Education - though in some areas the trend has been changing - has had a diminished set of expectations from students. As college education and access broadened, its rigor decreased. (my argument is not against higher access, btw). So, having experienced lower expectations in many classes, general ed in particular, students bristle against challenge. A friend of mine from college didn't have to write a term paper from Junior High until her second year of college. And complained the instructor was making her do it. The lack of challenge and experience set her back a year with remedial courses.

    • I think I should add something to my earlier comment. Several folks have given their argument for well-rounded educations, based on the idea that people should be functional in other areas of life besides the details of their career. In a way, I'm arguing for the same result but against the approach currently taken by many schools and professors. (Part of keeping an open mind is knowing that there are often more than two choices.)

      The current approach is teaching various subjects to students, whether they like it or not. I believe in a somewhat different approach: There are a small number of subjects that must be a requirement of school, as they are a requirement of modern life. These are reading, writing and math. And, the fourth subject, the subject of learning, as I described (not so well) in my previous post. These provide the foundation on which everything else (history, the arts, the sciences and technical subjects) can be learned. Unless I've forgotten something, everything goes under those categories, including bartending, machine operation, brain surgery, truck driving, web design, manufacturing engineering, money laundering, astronomy and archeology. I would say that nearly all known knowledge is printed in a book somewhere. All the student needs is the foundation, self respect, desire and ability to learn, at runtime, on the fly. A well-rounded education won't give you that but an education--starting in kindergarden, not college--that teaches you how to learn will.

    • Personally, I didn't go to college to learn what companies want from me, and I'm pretty happy about that.

      I was a CS major [], and I learned a lot about algorithmic designs, etc. More importantly, I spent those 4 years with other students from all over the country, I spent a year in Germany, and I took classes outside the core CS curriculum. I sucked at them, but I took them anyway.

      College isn't about learning a skill, as some one else pointed out: Tech schools are about learning technical skills. College is about broadening yourself beyond the ability to read slashdot, and understanding why other people might not read it. For a lot of people its about getting out of home and not living with their parents: learning self sufficiency. It's about people who don't come from the same little burb they live in, and it's about learning to deal with people who have vastly different experiences and backgrounds from themselves.

      I'm all for a broader educational experience. Six years after school, I wish I had learned more history, I wish i had learned more writing skills (as this post is witness to), and I wish I had learned more about other non-CS related sciences.

      If you don't want to learn that stuff, then good. Don't go to college. Learn your skill, and be a grunt for the next 20 years of your life. If you want to learn, and understand , why you're doing something, then accept that the whole situation has to be a little more broad.

  • by denshi (173594) <> on Sunday September 30, 2001 @03:16PM (#2370976) Homepage Journal
    This is not to say that a "Well-Rounded Education" is a good thing, or if the current attempts to implement such are effective.

    There are, IMHO, two solid things that constitute a serious education. One is a broad comprehension of many fields. When one has this knowledge, one can generalize approaches and draw on many different patterns of thought. The holder of such can be called "educated", but perhaps "instructed" might be a better term.

    The second is to know at least one subject deeply -- to the point of mastery. There are major changes in how you think when you have focused yourself enough on any one field. You know its boundaries, where it is malleable, the history of the field and what questions have been answered, and how evidence is evaluated in the field. The holder of this kind of training can be called "intelligent", and it is the practice of this that creates knowledge.

    Both are required to call a person fully educated, and it is laughable to think that the average person, with average dedication, can complete this by the end of their bachelor's degree at the age of 22 or so. Currently schools try to teach the former, and only in certain fine companies will the latter be picked up by the cunning. Neither one is really useful by themselves -- the unintelligent educated man can make insights, but accomplish little; the uneducated intelligent man can achieve much that is empheral or unwanted.

    In response to your final question, I should say "screw what a company really wants". What is needed is for a student to know a broad enough base to keep their mind open, and a willingness to work hard to develop focus and intelligence. You are soft iron -- you will be forged.

  • In the U.S., we have an unfortunate focus on the vocational utility of higher education. I understand that this may be necessary, since many students take on crushing debt to complete their studies. On the other hand, I believe that the best place to learn how to work is work. I'm confused that the poster thinks he's getting too general an education when he's taking exclusively finance and management courses. It's good to have a focus for research that interests you, no need to wait for grad school. But why take only courses that apply to what you think you want to do when you're ~20 years old?
    Wouldn't it make more sense to teach things that will help students early in their careers, like technical skills and other trade/foundation skills that are often required of entry-level, non-management employees?
    No. Go get a job doing what you want to do. Do it right now. Get a job doing something related for the school. Do IT work for a charity. Just don't expect school to make you a dream employee. Expect it to teach you how to think. Take some physics, some math, some biology. Given your interest in management, maybe a little Shakespeare, Homer, or Sun Tzu would be good.:)
    Do companies really want me to spend more time diagramming a program than I need to program it in the first place? (What about just documenting the code?)
    There's a parable about this one, can't remember it, but the gist is that you should spend way more time planning than you probably do. It might not seem practical for small CS projects, but it becomes exponentially more useful as projects get bigger. So you need to know how to do it, unless you want to spend the rest of your life writing shell scripts for intranets.:)
  • Well, I'm probably going to be modded down to the dirt for this, but...part of your problem is that you seem to be taking an MIS curriculum at your school.

    Not to get too down on those MIS folks out there, but in my experience, MIS programs are all very good at skimming lots of topics superficially, and very rarely delving deeply into any one area. In a way, it's understandable: they've tried to create programs that will teach "business" and "computers" in the same time frame as a regular CS or Business degree. You have to expect that there's going to be some topics in both areas that don't get covered well...

    Now, since I can hear the flamethrowers revving up already, let me say this: I'm sure there are good MIS programs out there. In particular, I'm sure that your MIS program is the best one out there, and that you're getting a better education than everyone else. That said, I've sat through non-introductory CS classes with MIS students, and in my experience, the MIS students were far less prepared for the curriculum than the CS students.

    To me, it sounds like you're dissatisfied with the content of your program, more than a "liberal arts" education. So, before you blame it on the school, why don't you try out a different major and see how things go. In particular, try out a CS major + Business minor (or even a CS/Business double, if you can), and see how you like that. I think you'll find that a lot of your complaints will go away...

  • To answer these concerns, I think one has to broaden the historical context. When universities were first conceived of in the 14th century, most fields which we are familiar with today did not even exist in the imagination. You couldn't study information technology, any of the sciences or fields of engineering (as we know them today), or even art practice. One basically studied to become a clergyman, a lawyer, or a teacher. It wasn't until the 19th century that academia even began to consider training engineers and other practical folk within their halls using modern curricular methods, which as the poster points out, do sometimes have their drawbacks.

    The point is that all of the institutional traditions of academia are set in place to create future generations of academics and professionals. We have similar discussion continuously in academia -- it has been pointed out than in steady state, a professor will train one graduate student to succeed him. Yet the average number of graduate students trained by a professor over his lifetime will often go into the dozens. Where do most of those students end up? Not in academia usually, but in industry.

    My own personal opinion is that academia is not constructed for the practical "real life" experiences the poster is concerned about, nor is there any reason to expect that it would do a good job at it. That is primarily what internships and summer research experiences are intended for. Ideally, in good internship and co-op programs, not only will students bring their classwork education into industry and academic research, but students will bring back their practical knowledge into the classroom.

  • Looking back... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Mendenhall (32321)
    A number of times during the time I spent on the teaching faculty at a University, we reviewed how to adjust the curriculum. One of the more interesting things that often came up was various polls of people in technical fields (engineers, scientists) who had been out 20+ years. When asked what they thought they should have taken more of at the university, in retrospect, the majority response was for more humanities, philosophy, languages, literature and music. Few thought they needed more engineering/science courses.
    Many of the technical details one learns in college are quickly outdated, and only serve the first few years of a career. After that, you must learn on your own what you need to keep ahead at work. Good, insightful courses in how our civilizations work, though, and how we live and think, are seen as highly valuable many years later.
  • You said you were an Information Systems major? For most universities that means you know Visual Basic, and Cobol.

    "Knowing the big picture is good, but how do
    you get to that level if you don't have any skills?"

    This is where general education comes in handy. Take lots of Math an Computer Science courses so you know how to break down problems you come across into bite size chunks. Take science courses so you can understand how your company's products work. Take humanities courses so you know how to relate to your customers. And take business courses to boost your GPA.
  • by RobertGraham (28990) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @03:43PM (#2371078) Homepage
    >Does the average entry-level IT person need to make the sort of decisions a CEO or CIO needs to make?

    The entry-level IT person needs to understand the decisions a CEO or CIO makes.

    Young people are a pain in the neck because they are not well-rounded. They come into companies thinking they have all the answers, but they don't understand what all the questions are. BTW, I'm describing myself here - I would not hire the person I was at 22.

    Take the example you mention. What happens when management wants to only invest in creating content for Internet Explorer on Windows? A typical kid out of school will fight for making it work on Macintoshes, Mozilla on Linux, and possibly Lynx. The kid thinks management doesn't understand the Big Picture, but the reverse is true. It is the kid that doesn't understand all the data that management is using to make their decision. Another example is Linux within IT. There are Big Picture issues why management is afraid of using it.

    Note that when I ran my own business (which eventually grew to 100 people in size), I made sure that our webpages worked on Lynx (Opera, HotJava, etc.) and I our poor little 486 running RedHat 5.2 handled huge volumes of e-mail. However, I also understand the big picture - I know why the decisions I made here do not apply to others. (The company has been bought out, we are using MS Exchange e-mail, which I find loathsome, but I don't dispute the decision, because I understand the big-picture).

    >Do companies really want me to spend more time diagramming a program than I need to program it in the first place?

    Yes. This is exactly the point. The company doesn't care about the code you right, they only care about whether others can fix bugs or make enhancements to your code 5 years from now. The "design" of the code is far more important than the implementation. It is actually far more complicated than that (heck, I've watched company's so afraid of actual coding that they get into design-paralysis, but that's a different issue). The point is simply that what your employer wants out of you is often different from what you want to do - that's why they pay you.

    >My question for Slashdot readers is: Is this really what companies want of today's graduates?"

    First, as an employer, I want somebody who will do what I want them to do. If that means writing content only for Internet Explorer, then so be it. Second, I want them to understand what is valuable to me. If I want Internet Explorer specific content, I don't want them to meekly submit and do it, I want them to understand why it is important to me. Fresh perspectives that youth tends to have are indeed valuable, but only when they can fit within my existing framework.

    Finally, there is the general question of being "well-rounded". This is indeed the definition of a "university": its goal is not to educate you so much as prevent you from being ignorant. It depends upon your values. Some people find that ignorance is bliss. Do you want to be a raving ignorant paranoid (*cough* JonKatz *cough*) that thinks they always have the right answers? Or do you want to be somebody who knows enough of the Big Picture that never has all the answers?

    • by Afterimage (44695) <nwalls&ismedia,org> on Sunday September 30, 2001 @04:38PM (#2371285) Homepage

      First, as an employer, I want somebody who will do what I want them to do. If that means writing content only for Internet Explorer, then so be it. Second, I want them to understand what is valuable to me. If I want Internet Explorer specific content, I don't want them to meekly submit and do it, I want them to understand why it is important to me. Fresh perspectives that youth tends to have are indeed valuable, but only when they can fit within my existing framework.

      This sounds like asking to have your cake and eat it, too. If you want to hire yes men, go right ahead. But at the same time, don't try to encourage understanding if you're coming across as inflexible. Here's our general office criteria (and maybe this is what you were getting at): Decisions or thought processes by management are adjustable to employee imput. We do occasionally encouter some resistence when we rip into an idea that we think is utter crap. But, the basis for our arguments is we are where the work is done and hence have working knowledge that perhaps doesn't occur to folks who repesent the dept in meetings six hours out of eight. Ultimately, we'll do as we're asked, but we won't hide our opinions along the way. By and large, our manager is good about listening and making adjustments where they need to be made. It's expected that no one is above discussing the reasoning behind a decision.

      Secondly, we've found that management "existing frameworks" can lead to valuable ideas being ignored or dismissed when raised by "new employees." Instead, we can find ourselves behind when six to nine months later, it becomes part of someone's "existing framework"

    • This post has a very idealistic view of what a CEO or CIO is capable of.

      The "big picture" you describe has been, in my experience, more often a "details of the bottom line" that is the opposite of overview-level thinking. Most CEOs are not technicians, nor have they been. They tend to graduate from one of these universities that teaches business and are dumped straight into management. They have to work their way up, but they tend to be management the entire time.

      Management is quite prone to fads. Not only the Dilbertesque slogans and terminology, but also to techniques ("the one thing to keep in mind is to maximize billability"--this in a company that has 90% fixed-price contracts). The CEO who assumes they understand all the issues of a breaking technology from reading articles in CIO is going to have a dot-bomb on their hands quite soon.

      Yes, there are innumerable enthusiastic young things that want to sacrifice the bottom line to whatever cool idea they've come up with, but, for example, with your example of IE versus the world, you've cut yourself off from 10-15% of your marketshare. Now, unless you know your target demographic is 100% WinIE, or you absolutely need some downloadable ActiveX control to carry out the client's part of the transaction, there are very few reasons why coding to a wider set of standards than WinIE should be a bad business decision at the "big picture" level.

      I agree that an employee who knows as much as is useful about the bigger picture is a more valuable employee than someone who only knows their business, but no one comes from any education instinctively knowing the "Big Picture". The "Big Picture" is made up of judgements about a wide range of information specific to each situation as well as general trends. If you're expecting someone to come in knowing what you know by psychic phenomena and don't actually say, "Yes, in an ideal world we'd code to Mac, Linux, and Netscape, but in our market that would only gain us 2% marketshare for 5% increased cost due to additional testing, and that just doesn't make business sense," then you're going to end up with blind yes-men who will not let you know that the customer is pissed, there's a new technology that would reduce your costs, or even that half your employees are planning to leave for a company that values their input.

      That is preventing ignorance.
    • This is indeed the definition of a "university": its goal is not to educate you so much as prevent you from being ignorant.

      The purpose of education is a very old debate and the term "well-rounded" is a much watered-down version of the a principle defended by Cicero (106 - 43 B.C) that the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is a defining human characteristic.

      In contrast, Cato the Elder (234 - 149 BC) insisted that knowledge be judged by what it produce and held what might now be called a liberal education in contempt.

      The definitive exposition of the issue is Cardinal Newman's The Idea of a University []. He makes a useful distinction between "servile" education ("mechanical employment, and the like, in which the mind has little or no part") as being the opposite of "liberal" education, which "is the cultivation of the intellect, as such, and its object is nothing more or less than intellectual excellence."

      Newman does not disparage the professions as being devoid of intellectual value. However, one can see in his distinction between the two types of education that putting one's mind purely in the service of earning a living ignores a much larger world beyond one's immediate needs.

      Newman argues: "Liberal Education makes not the Christian, not the Catholic, but the gentleman. It is well to be a gentlemen, it is well to have a cultivated intellect, a delicate taste, a candid, equitable, dispassionate mind, a noble and courteous bearing in the conduct of life;--these are the connatural qualities of a large knowledge; they are the objects of a University."

  • You seem to be assuming that the entire meaning and purpose of a college degree is to prepare you for a job.

    If that's your goal, if all you want are job-specific skills, you probably are in the wrong place. You want a trade school.

    Of course, then all you get are job-specific skills. When those are out-of-date - or if you change fields - they're useless. Fortunately, what I learned both in and out of my major has proved to have more lasting relevance over the past 10 years.

    Is a "well-rounded" education a good one? It's the only real kind. Anything else is a mere collection of facts and tricks to be memorized.

  • At my college we don't require the (non-computer science) science majors to take any computing courses more advanced than the CSC100 Beginners Computing. This class is nothing more than a 'get aquainted with computers' style course. The kind of class that shows us how to turn on a computer. What the Web is and could be used for. How to write a Word document and get an Excel spreadsheet to show a simple graph.

    We all take the course. Those of us who knew computers before the course get A's and the few who didn't get computers in high school tend to get B's. The next time we see computers will be 5 semesters later when we use the NMR or Mass Spec. Those B's have long since forgotten how computers work. If they hadn't wasted so much time on English classes to be well rounded and took a programming course they would have a much easier time using the machines.

    Their lab reports do look nicely formatted though. Too bad they blead the Liquid Helium half way through the run.

  • Well rounded educations build enlightened people. Trade-Based educations build employees.

    I cannot even believe someone would make this suggestion, the world needs people to think LESS of their business and careers and more about the important ideas around them... what a profoundly, supremely TERRIBLE idea.

    Imagine a world where ONLY capitalistic function is relevant... more so than now, extended all the way to our education systems... branded, maximized, cost-structured all for building soul-less and ignorant employees.

    I am really incapable of understanding why anyone would consider this... have we finally begun the wholesale-sale of all of Humanity? Would we stoop so low as to welcome only "job-function-learning"? Can you imagine a world completely without wisdom or context where everyone has been given a corporate-centered education - will we loose our ability to function in our community and devolve into endless sterile business dealings.

    This kind of thinking is so glued to American Capitalism Ethos that im sure my ranting sounds crazy to those living in the Belly-of-the-Beast, but please people, there is more to life than work and money.... remember all those things that they TAUGHT YOU IN SCHOOL... remember your WELL ROUNDED and BROAD education?

  • If all you want from school is to graduate immediately into a high-paying job in your field of choice, then yes, screw all those other courses, and forget being "well-rounded." But consider this: most people do not spend their entire lives in the same field of work.

    What were you doing when you were 5? Can you imagine doing that now, or 20 years from now? If you think you won't have the same perspective then ("But ... I was such a child at 5 ... it'll be different when I'm 45") you're wrong.

    The primary purpose of a good education is to give you tools to continue educating yourself. Quick example: every war movie ever made has the "touch-as-nails ass-kicking Sergeant who knows everything" and the "greenhorn Lieutenant who gets in the way." These are stereotypes obviously, but instructive. What's the difference between these two? It's experience vs. education.

    I got a degree in English literature and philosophy and what am I doing for a living? Programming and database design. My education (and my parents) taught me how to teach myself, how to think and learn and enjoy it.

    My education gave me a set of tools to apply to any problem, kind of like lock picks, or being a locksmith. No, they don't fit any lock exactly, but with a little screwing around I can get most locks open. Compared with having a specific key which smoothly and perfectly opens a given lock but is useless for anything else. The downside is that "screwing around" period, but I think my life's much more interesting for it.

    Finally, to this point: "Is this really what companies want of today's graduates?" A resounding "yes." When you interview for a job you'll be up against any number of people with better academic credentials. The trick is, neither of you will know nearly enough to really do your job, and you'll both need extensive training before you're productive and can repay the company's investment in you. You have to know your shit, but that's only the baseline - if you didn't have that you wouldn't have made the interview. The interview's to discover if you can learn and adapt and think, and that's the most valuable thing you can learn in school.
  • As someone who has a professional degree (I'm a physician), has helped establish 2 venture funded companies, run a small IT department, worked in the private sector in IT, security and sales just for starters, I can't say enough good things about a well rounded education. I think that any idea of specializing early in life is misguided. Sure it produces narrow thinkers who can't manuever when push comes to shove. When major economic changes come or even life changes, you need to be able bob and weave like a metaphorical boxer.

    That ability can't be had by specializing. My liberal art emphasized collegiate education is at least partly to thank for my successes. Hooray small colleges []. If nothing else, a broad education preps the mind for accepting new ideas, something that a narrow educational perspective just can't be credited with.
  • by tshak (173364) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @03:51PM (#2371110) Homepage
    If you're too well rounded then you're not very sharp.
  • Every time I run into this argument, I keep wondering what people like you are doing in a university. You're not there for what the university teaches. You're there for vocational skills - that's it. So, why are you bothering with a university? Why are you wasting their time, and your money? Why aren't you letting someone who could _get something_ out of that education in, when you obviously (a) don't get it, (b) don't give a sh*t, and (c) really just want those initials after your name.

    Seriously - what you're after is what vocational schools are about. What's the point of a university? It produces research. It produces well-rounded people. It makes you learn how to learn, so you can go do it yourself.

    If all you want is how to program, how to configure a Cisco box, or how to sysadmin, save everyone a lot of trouble, and go find a VocTech school.
  • One thing you will find when you go to work in a large corporation is that the people who get ahead generally don't know what they are doing. They are selected for advancement based on personality factors that allow them to tolerate a high degree of meaningless, bureaucratic routine and get along with others so inclined.

    No university is going to teach those skills, nor should it, although many of the professors are exceptionally adept at departmental politics themselves.

    I've found that for being well-rounded, nothing beats mathematics. The ability to apply mathematical concepts in analyzing a wide range of problems has been an enormous and unexpected asset. I've found my technical progress barred by the limits of my mathematical training more than any other area.

    Personally, I've found that after many years, the courses that seemed most useless in college have afforded me the greatest enjoyment in later life. The literature and history courses never go out of date and form the basis of the contemplative pleaures that supply most of life's satisfaction.

  • The problem with a "well rounded" education, as defined by most universities, is that in general, it doesn't serve you.

    There are some exceptions. In the U.S. and other English speaking countries, I think English should be a core part of the curriculum. I was never a particularly good English student, but I have a decent command of the language, and that's important in most aspects of life. For example, I get illiterate e-mails from co-workers, and frankly, it affects my opinion of their intelligence, fair or not.

    Politics, Geography, and History are all very important as well. Politics because to be an effective member of society, you must understand politics. History because, to coin a phrase, those who don't know history are destined to repeat it. And finally Geography because it is required by History and Politics.

    I was not a particularly good student. I was a damn good programmer. I started when I was 10. School was "boring" for me. I never did particularly well.

    This brings me to my final point. In the words of Mark Twain, "Never let your schooling interefere with your education." The point is this: I'm primarily self-educated in most of the subjects I've raised above. Though I was a poor English student in school, I've written a number of articles and a book in my field. Not that you have to be particularly well read or a particularly good writer to get published in the software field. Nevertheless, you must be able to put together a coherent sentence and be able to express yourself in writing.

    I think that the education in the U.S. is abysmal in many respects. But school was never for me. You sit me down with a book and a need or an interest to learn something, and I'll learn it. I spent two years, more or less, vacationing in Mexico. In those two years, I learned more about medicine, biology and theoretical, particle, and astro-physics than I learned of any one subject in my many years of schooling.

    With the Internet, education is available to anyone with a computer and a modem. Take advantage of it. Education is priceless. A degree has a price. Never confuse the two.
  • with university education / technical college training etc. is that it is single purpose (for the most part). University education is about theory, not practical application whereas technical college is about practical application only. Even the "well-rounded" education of a liberal arts degree is still almost completely focussed on the theoretical side of things. But in reality, there are many aspects to learning which we absorb throughout our lives, but are often unacknowledged. For example, every single human being learns about beauty. Very rarely is beauty approached directly in educational systems, or in job "requirements", or in civic responsibilities. Another example is creativity. There is an educational system which does account for these things explicitly: the Oomind educational system ( []). It accounts for educational material having the following attributes:
    1. Beautiful
    2. Creative
    3. Empowering
    4. Entertaining
    5. Informative
    6. Insightful
    7. Inspirational
    8. Practical
    9. Theoretical
    10. User Friendly

    You can also check out the philosophy behind Oomind [] and a general introduction to Oomind [].

  • by CaseyB (1105) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @04:28PM (#2371256)
    A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, pitch manure, solve equations, analyze a new problem, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, and die gallantly.

    Specialization is for insects.

    - Robert A. Heinlein

  • "Universities seem to push being well-rounded, or knowing a little bit about everything but nothing about anything in particular. They attempt to teach courses that could help you succeed in your lifelong career, whatever it might be.

    Well, preparing you to succeed in life is what a univeristy education is all about, or at least that's what it's supposed to be about.

    It seems to me that it would be better to teach skills that would help us in the first 10 years of employment.

    So, what are you planning to do after 10 years?

    Perhaps what you're talking about is trade school. Fine. There's nothing wrong with trade school. We ramrod everyone into college when many do not need to go to college. They would benefit more from trade school. Where I live, you can't hardly get a contractor to answer the phone. Plumbers live better than programmers. If I had a son, I'd encourage him to pursue a trade. Those guys still have good career prospects when they're 50, programmers generally do not.
  • My mom lived in England for a while (went to school there) and according to her, Universities only teach you what you need to know. Let's take, for example, becoming a doctor. In the US you'd have to do 4 years of HS, 4 of college, and at lest 4 of grad school. Over in England they do 5 years of HS and then 3 years of grad school (med school). They've cut out 4 years useless information, figuring what's the point of 4 years of English (in college) when you don't really need all those classes? I'm considering going to an English university to cut out those 4 years of college... I could be a doctor, lawyer, whatever when I'm in my early twenties.
  • I think... perhaps many people misunderstand what a University education is all about...

    A well rounded education is important, to be sure. In a way.

    University is not there to 'teach you a skill' so you can go get a job. It's there to make you think, to teach you general concepts, and a well rounded education. You can certainly take some courses to learn about certain things that interest you in your field.....
    But university is not just about learning a trade.
    You can do that at a trade school... a college... if you want ot be a nurse, you can do that.. if you want to be a technician, you can do that...

    If you view university as 'the way to get a job'. Go to trade school, save yourself the time and money. Go to University to discover what you want to do.. to think.. to study.. to observe.
    I'd happily go back to university....
  • by blair1q (305137) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @05:00PM (#2371358) Journal
    It's your money (especially if it's a student loan, because you pay that back plus a profit margin).

    Your education is your choice.

    The guidance is for that 94% of students who are in college because it's what teenagers do after high school and because HR departments act mechanically when sorting resume's and creating pay ladders. They don't know where they're going, so it shouldn't matter to you if they go nowhere. The school is just trying to make it look like their tuition isn't being as wasted as it is.

    If you want to use your 4-10 years as training rather than renaissance-man building, that's what you pay the big bucks for. Load up on technology intelligence (math, science, engineering, writing), and take an archaeology or history class if you want to be bored in a different way for three hours a week.
  • People here seem very materialistic and focused on college as a way to increase their pay grade. That's not the purpose of a well-rounded education (though it *can* do that); its purpose is to make you a more intelligent and generally more well-informed person. If you know everything about TCP/IP networking inside-out, but don't even know what continent Pakistan is on, that's a bad thing, even if it isn't detrimental to your job performance. Same with knowing some basic literature, how to do math, some simply physics, and so on. You can be the best at your job and still be an idiot - the goal of higher education is to prevent that from happening.

    If that's not what you look for in education, why go to a 4-year college when you could for much cheaper go to a trade school and learn just the skills you want to learn?
  • I am a C++ programmer in a Solaris environment. When I went to college, many years ago, if you had studied computers you would have learned to use Fortran on punch cards.

    Instead of doing this, I spent most of my time learning Latin and Greek and reading ancient literary and philosophical texts. I think the course where I learned the most was a seminar when we read and analyzed Plato's Phaedo. There were only three guys in the course, so when we decided to meet five times a week instead of three, no one stoppped us.

    Of course, this was long before Bjarne invented C++, when there was no fork1() around, and no pthread library to play with. However, the syntax of classical Greek is about the only thing I can think of that is actually more complicated than the syntax of C++. Well, maybe if you through in all the subtleties of STL...

    Many of the guys I've worked with have similar diverse backgrounds. We did what we wanted when we were young, and then settled down to earn a living. That's the meaning of school, after all; I don't have to tell you Greeklings that 'skholia' is the word for leisure.

    One of the sharpest consultants I ever met, who is very well paid and always in demand, never even touched a computer until he was in his early thirties. He majored in art, drove a taxi, ran a theatre company, went to law school, etc, etc. He told me that the best way to live is to be retired during your youth, because if you wait until you're old to retire, you won't be able to do what you want.

  • Resist Tunnel Vision (Score:4, Informative)

    by Beowulfto (169354) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @05:05PM (#2371374)
    OK, I need to weigh in here as this has been a topic of discussion among my friends and I for quite a few years.

    First off, you have a choice. I graduated in 97, and I recall the torture of trying to decide where to go to college. The idea is that you choose the institution which fits you best. If you don't like the curriculum, then why did you choose to go there?

    Secondly, a University is designed to expand your horizons and teach you how to think. If you want to learn how to do a job, then a Technical Institute is for you. They are designed to teach you how to do a job, not how to think and learn.

    So enough of my ranting, you can see that I am a firm believer in the Liberal Arts. But don't get me wrong, I think computers/technology are great and I spend lots of my life involved with my geeky pursuits. However, it can be taken to an extreme. I am attending a highly regarded Engineering school. Graduates have great job placement, are recruited actively and make lots of money, blah, blah, blah. But let me tell you, they are some of the most boring people in the world. (Not all of them, mind you, but most of them.) Many people, and geeks in particular, can get so wrapped up in an interest or project that it consumes their whole life. This is dangerous in many respects. What a liberal education will do is let you experience other areas of knowledge. One interesting tidbit: a couple of years ago my school instituted a two classes that are required for all students. They call them Technical Communications and teach students how to write memos, do presentations, and other career-oriented writing skills. These classes were implemented because employers were saying that our graduates didn't have even the most basic communication skills. They had been concentrating so hard on their Engineering studies that they hadn't learned anything else.

    One of the worst effects of computers (IMHO) was the extinction of the library card catalog. I loved that as I was hunting around for the card that I needed, I would stumble upon other cards/books of interest. This is something that computers just can't equal. When I was a grade-school student I was usually bored, and to pass the time I would read the Encyclopedia. You can't image the entertainment and education that this random browsing provided. If you only study a single subject, you might become very knowledgeable in that area, but at the price of expanding your vision and your concept of the world around you. So even if you are taking a very specialized curriculum, please take some classes that are not related. Ask around and see which classes/professors are well-regarded. Psychology and Sociology are always popular. I always try to take one "fun" class a semester, and this semester it's Cultural Anthropology. Whatever it is, it should make you read and think critically. Best of luck.

  • "Do any of you know of cirriculums that are good examples of a true well-rounded education?"

  • Bad Sample Set (Score:2, Insightful)

    by xxyyxxzz (87887)
    All of the examples listed are instances of practical application. Finance, business (not economics), management, MIS, and others that teach "practical" skills that have immediate use in a particular workplace were not usually part of a university's curriculum fifty years ago.

    The main purpose of undergraduate study is to prepare a student with the skills of how to think. If high school is seen as the time when a student learns how to absorb knowledge, then the university makes much more sense as a place to learn how to _use_ knowledge. How to go beyond synthesis and regurgitation. The classic humanities and sciences curriculums serve not merely to teach mathematics or history or english or chemistry, but they teach a student how to think.

    Over the past fifty years, the American academic system has been under siege by pundits insisting that school teach students things that they can use immediately. This is what allowed business schools to gain legitimacy in the academic system, and what has caused much of the natural and social science curriculums to become much more geared to "the first year in the workforce".

    In short, the types of majors that are increasingly taking over the American university system are disciplines that would have been found at trade schools or colleges two generations ago.

    Is this a good thing? Absolutely, for the businesses who profit greatly from cheap, well-trained labor that schools churn out each year. However, having computer scientists who have no background in other areas of study does a disservice to both the individual and to the society. When Jefferson and the other radical framers of the Constitution talked about a well-educated populace, they were not talking about a group with advanced skills, but people who were well-rounded contributors to society. Their focus was not merely on the paycheck and spending power, but on the well-informed and active intellectual contribution we all should make.

    Not having the skills and information to be well informed is one of the greatest dangers to democracy and the university is one of the final preservers of this institution.
  • In Ireland we have a broad curriculum up to school leaving age (18). Everyone has to do English, Irish, and Maths. Most people do at least one foreign language, usually French. Most people do three or four more subjects.

    In Irish universities a typical undegraduate degree is three or four years. The first year is often quite broad, but only within faculty limits. A physical science student might do chemistry, physics and maths. A biological science student might do several biology topics, chemistry and physics. The course gets more specialised in year 2. Year 3 (and year 4) are essentially single subject in most science courses. Arts courses often have two majors in the last year or two. Vocational degrees like medicine, law, and engineering usually have separate courses, though biological science and medicine overlap to some extent. Our idea of university education is different to yours - not better, not worse, but different.

    The end result in medicine is, in my experience, similar enough. Good people are those who can think, and use common sense in applying what they know. Bad people are those who can only regurgitate what we've taught them. Good doctors are primarily those who are good with people.

  • by sconeu (64226) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @05:33PM (#2371457) Homepage Journal
    Back in the dark ages (1984) at UC Santa Cruz, there was a lot of disagreement between the "theoreticians" and the "applicationists"(?) in the Computer Science department. Naturally, the students wanted more practical training.

    Look back, some 17 years later, the decision to teach theory was correct. You can always learn the specifics of XYZ OS, or the syntax of language ABC. But learning why they work the way they do is much more important.

    Scott Neugroschl
    -- Founding Member of CISSA, UCSC Crown College 1984
  • I think what one does in university depends a lot on what one did before in high, middle and elementary schools. For example, when I lived in Massachusetts, the elementary schools and camps there encouraged kids to do supervised experiments with chemicals, including slightly danergous ones, with proper safety procedures. In high school in Florida, my chemistry teachers were forbidden to bring any sort of chemicals into the classroom, making the class just a bunch of abstract paperwork that we totally forgot at the end of the year. Also, one private school I went to had a fantastic English teacher, very involving, comprehensive and demanding, but at the public schools in the area the English teachers were just decent.

    So depending on where I've gone, I've learned nothing, a little, or a lot. I think the people who want to focus in on majors in college are those who've had good foundations in high and middle school. Those who want a broader education still need to get those foundations. Like myself.
  • By the time you enter college, you are old enough to take responsibility for your education: which courses do you want to take, what kind of knowledge will help you, what kind of things interst you.

    Now, you do need to be good at your job to make a decent living, so you need to do well in your specialization. Whether a "well-rounded" education is feasible and useful to you depends on many factors. Do you have the time or do you need to study a lot for your main subject? Do you even have an interested in other subjects (many people are happy engineers with only a technical hobby, and there is nothing wrong with that)? Do you expect to attend lots of cocktail parties in your life where you need to engage in erudite conversation on a variety of topics? You can think of other considerations yourself.

    So, requiring "well-roundedness" is probably a mistake, but offering people the opportunity to take courses beyond their subject if it interests them is probably a good idea. Choose your college accordingly. My college had a general education requirement, which I knew would waste 25% of my academic schedule (I would have picked my own humanities subjects if I had been allowed to), but the school was good enough to make up for this otherwise pretty serious defect in their curriculum.

  • by Telek (410366) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @06:37PM (#2371625) Homepage
    If you have any idea what you are going to be doing in 5 years, nevermind 10 or 20, then perhaps you can count yourself as one of the lucky ones. I know very few people who know that they want to do 5 years from now, never mind know what they will be doing.

    I know that universities tend to teach a well rounded education, a little of everything, but this will almost certainly pay off in your later life, especially if you plan to move around a lot and get very high paying jobs. If you want a pointed career without a lot of advancement opportunities, then you can go for a much more direct approach to education, like college. However I know that all of the people that I have heard complain about how university was a waste of their time have changed their tune after the downturn of the economy, and a lot of the college grads who were laughing suddenly are unemployed.

    When the time comes that you are bored with your job / get unemployed and get an opportunity for that job that was 15% better paying than before, there's a much better chance that you would be qualified for that job because of a much more "rounded" rather than "targeted" education. Yeah, in Grade 5 I didn't want to study french, "Why the hell would I ever want to go to France?" and here I am, living in France right now. In the early years of university I kinda skimped on the math side of courses, but I learned enough and had enough BS skills to wind up getting a great job doing cryptography. (It helps that I'm a very quick learner as well). There have also been a few other opportunities that I haven't been able to take because I was of the opinion that "Bah, why would I need to know how to do that?", and similarly there have been numerous times when knowledge of physics, astronomy, calculus, algebra, psychology, and many other "side courses" that I took have come in handy.

    Finally, it's 5 years out of your life. Perhaps 2 or 3 more than taking a college degree. Consider it an "investment" in your future. Not only are university degrees looked at more favorably than college degrees, but you leave a number of doors open instead of closing them. I think spending 3 years of your life to leave your opportunities open in the future is a very smart idea, but then again that's just my opinion =)
  • by d3mian (128496) <aaron.symbolicorder@com@com> on Sunday September 30, 2001 @07:18PM (#2371727) Homepage
    I don't want to step on anyone's toes with this one but I couldn't disagree more with the proposal that universities need to teach more specifically job related skills. I pay my bills by doing freelance web design/programming so I consider myself pretty computer literate. I've also worked for dotcoms in the past, so I know what employers look for. The problem is, I don't think that's what a university education is about.

    I'll let anecdotal evidence speak for my argument: I have a friend who, in May, graduated with a degree in computer science. He works for a company doing web development and programming. He told me a couple of days ago that, while he can "program a mean computer," he feels, to a great extent, that he didn't get much out of his education. He started work for this company as an intern during his sophomore year. Mostly through working there, he acquired all the skills he needs to do his job well. The CS degree was just icing. I, on the other hand, am an English major spending my time studying literature and postmodern philosophy; none too "useful" stuff. The point my friend made was that, while he had picked up skills during his four years of college, he wishes he'd spent that time doing more what we'll call "critical thinking."

    To me, an education is NOT about job training. I think that's a sad outgrowth of our current system. The simple fact of the matter is that most jobs do NOT require anything one learns in college. And, for those that do, the employee would've been better off entering into that job and getting four more years of experience in it than four years of a college "education."

    I firmly believe that one should get a college education because they love learning, not because they want a job. I believe there are ten times as many people enrolled in universities as there should be. If the only reason you're going to college is because of societal expectations or to acquire a piece of paper so you can get a job, then those four years seem like a waste of time to me. If, however, you want to go because you genuinely want to learn then, by all means, enter into the wonderful world of academia.
  • by FosterSJC (466265) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @09:12PM (#2372000)
    Dear /.ers, this is taken from an E2 node on St. John's College. The college offers the utmost in Liberal Education. Read it... It may change your life. It changed mine...

    The College follows what is oft called a "Great Books Program." The basic idea is that one takes the seminal works of Western Civilization and chronologically works through them (freshmen cover the Greeks, Sophomores the Romans and Medievals, Juniors the Renaissance and Enlightenment, and Seniors the Moderns). In one sense, this means no textbooks, i.e., no "Chemistry 101." On the other hand, one does odd things like read Lavoisier's treatise establishing what we now call the table of periodic elements. The idea is to read the original sources and through conversation to analyze it and understand it. Lab classes also have a practicum section where they reenact the pertinent experiments in an attempt to see the evidence that prompted the author's conclusions. Faculty members, called tutors, take the role of facilitators. The official rhetoric of the school is that they are merely fellow learners a few steps ahead on the road to knowledge, a rhetoric that is largely lived out. In accordance with this view comes one of the odder traditions on campus: faculty members, called tutors, and all others (staff, students, etc) are addressed the same, as Mr. or Ms. So-and-so.

    Registration is rather a joke. A student walks in, verifies their identity, signs the paperwork officially promising their soul and first-born child to the devil, and then picks up the schedule the Registrar has assigned them. Freshman take courses with such descriptive titles as "Freshman Language," "Freshman Mathematics," "Freshman Lab" and "Freshman Seminar." Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors all take similar classes. There are only two exceptions to this. First, Sophomores take a music tutorial (all regular course work receives this name) instead of a lab tutorial. Second, Juniors and Seniors take an 8 week break from the evening seminar to participate in "preceptorials." The only elective process of the official curriculum, upperclassman are given this opportunity to focus on a specific work or author that they would like to study in depth. Precepts are different from other classes in another way: size. Tutorials normally have 15 to 20 students and 1 Tutor, seminars have roughly 30 to 40 students and 2 Tutors, while precepts generally have anywhere from 4 to 20 students and 1 tutor. Subject matter for precepts is determined this way: Upperclassmen are allowed to suggest topics to the Dean's office. That list is then circulated around the faculty to see if anyone would care to lead such a class, after a list of which Tutor will be leading what studies, students are allowed to list a ranked 3 preferences. The Dean then assigns who goes where.

    The subject of the tutorials is rather easy to determine (math, lab, music, language--classical greek and french), but seminar and precept may need more explanation. These classes are more the heart of the program. The tutorials are normal 70 minute long classes you take during the day, the seminar is different. It's a two hour long classes twice a week at night. Its expected to be a more formal event, and students often dress accordingly. Its here that one learns the skill to put forth an argument, a view, an analysis of some of the toughest stuff you've ever read and then to let it be ripped apart by your friends, enemies, and teachers, all without taking it personally. In turn you learn to do it to others. The standard at St. John's is that you can say whatever the %$*# you went, so long as you can back it up with reason. Seminar and precept are where you do it. Books covered in seminar are mostly the heavies of philosophy, religion, and "literature." Heavies like Homer, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Hegel, and so on...

    Grading and assessment are also different. The schools' official position is that if they could get away without giving grades, they wouldn't. But the accrediting agencies all require grades. So they give 'em. Well that's a bit generous. They assign grades. If you want to see them you have to make an apointment with the registrar and fill out a special form. Instead assessment is done chiefly through the don rag. As discussed earlier, the faculty one works with that semester gets together to discuss you, your contributions to class and the school in general, and whether or not you are fit to pass on to the next semester. You're invited to attend this meeting and listen in. At the end of the meeting, the chair of the committee finally acknowkedges your presence and you are allowed to respond in whatever manner you deem best.

    The other vehicle for assessment is the annual essay. Each year one is expected to write an essay "fit for publication," and then to defend it orally before your two seminar tutors. This essay is particularly important in the sophomore year when one goes through the enabling process. In that case the entire college faculty gathers and discusses every member of the sophomore class, and their fitness to pass on to Junior year. The Senior essay is also different. Each year's essay is supposed to be both longer and weightier than that of the previous year, however, it is subject is limited to something one studied that year. In Senior year though, all bets are off. One can write on anything given the approval of the dean, and one's oral is public and conducted by a panel of three faculty members one normally isn't currently studying under. In the other three years, one can flub the essay and still move on, but if your Senior essay is rejected or you fail your oral, you don't graduate. You have to wait till the next spring to try again.

    In any normal American school this would indeed end up leading to a BA with a double major and a few associated minors. However, at St. John?s you end up with a BA in liberal arts. Thats it. The idea is that the purpose of education is to be educated, not trained: well-rounded in the arts that make up our society, understanding of where those arts came from, how they got there, and how they'll probably move in the future. When one graduates, one really isn't qualified to be anything. However, a graduate is fully capable of associating with just about anyone in any field, and not thoroughly embarrassing them self or becoming absolutely clueless. In other words, high school messes you up, this college fixes you and makes you smart for life, and grad school hones you.

  • I could not disagree with this poster more. In short: you have it entirely backwards. University should not teach any of the things you mention, and it should teach many things that you don't.

    This is a topic I feel very strongly about. Univerities are schools that are strongly grounded in some very old traditions in education: scientific education, liberal education, and to some degree artistic education.

    Many here will be familiar with scientific education. Artisitic education is just that: learning to paint, draw, scuplt, act, or write. Liberal education is the true heart of the university: the studies of history, literature, philosophy, classics, etc, and is by far the most important.

    Technical education (writing in C++, database management, finance, etc etc) in my book have small use in a university context. Technical skills can easily be picked up by anyone with half a brain and a book; I'm a fair expert in half a dozen programming languages, all of which I picked up in my spare time.

    What it is NOT possible to pick up in your spare time is an apprection for, say, the historical context of anti-American sentiment in the middle east (just to give a topical example). Or metaphysics. Good arguments regarding how government can work, or could work, or should work, and what some of the smartest people of all time thought about it. What it means (historically or philosophically) to be a citizen. How to design an experiment in a tight way, how to argue a position. How to speak, how to ask questions. How to take notes, now to takle complicated problems or compilicated issues.

    In fact, the fact that you have raised this question signals to me that you haven't gotten such an education: education itself is something that has been thought about for centuries (N.B the earilest universities were born 1200 AD or thereabouts) and universities, despite constant change, have for the most part failed to adopt this narrow, supply-and-demand model you seem to be thinking in.

    Scientific training gives a different set of skills, also valuable, if with a different emphasis. One gets an appreciation for the scientific traditions, the scientific context for the world around us, together with analytical skills and the ability to wield doubt and argument as weapons against the unknown.

    Technical skills such as the ones you discuss are important, sure.. but I wouldn't rank them any higher than, for example, knowning how to drive a car or use a library, things that CAN be taught in universities, but should not be the main focus of such education.

    Higher education is just that: higher.
  • by hey! (33014) on Monday October 01, 2001 @10:33AM (#2373452) Homepage Journal
    Well roundedness cannot be taught. It comes when a prepared mind meets life experiences: professional success and failure, personal triumph and grieving. You can't understand Dante or Chaucer until you've tasted human folly.

    The idea that you can, as part of a degree program, be "exposed" to various courses and that this will somehow make you well rounded is absurd. You only become well rounded when you struggle to organically integrate disparate kinds of knowledge and skills. Making an attractive and functional user interface is a good example of this kind of struggle. Ideally, you understand art, psychology, programming, as well as HCI as a distinct discipline in itself. Probably, you need a team to do this well, one that brings people with different backgrounds and temperments together who somehow can manage to avoid talking past each other.

    The problem with making this happen is that our idea of education is ridiculously outmoded.

    Our model of education is medieval. When the University was created, lives were short and the human store of knowledge small. At twenty one, a recent graduate had lived nearly half is life expectancy, and in four or five years could reasonably have been expected to plum every store of human knowledge to some depth. Furthermore, he could be confident that while he was on his deathbed, newly matriculated students would be receiving an education exactly like the one he did. The modern student graduates with perhaps three quarters of his life ahead of him. And each decade brings more change in the state of knowledge than entire centuries did before. Imagine how the medieval model of a gentleman's education would have changed if it had to prepare it's recipients had life spans of five hundred years.

    In the standard University model, education is like collecting bricks to form into a tidy little cottage that you will live the rest of your life in. The challenge for the modern student is more like being prepared to swim and turbulent, uncharted ocean with unpredictable weather and treacherous currents. Ideas that safely lived on far shores, such as Islam, now affect us in our day to day lives and demand our attention and understanding.

    Economic forces are undermining the value of University education too. Some years ago I participated in a symposium on higher education sponsored by the President's Council on Sustainable Development, as part of the Rio accords. The attendees were the most forward looking academics from every field of study. One of the greatest concerns that they had was elitism. Practically any dunce can get a University education provided he has enough family support. However promising students are often derailed by personal or economic setbacks. As University prices rise, this problem will eventually engulf the entire middle class of students. Universities, unless they change both their educational financial foundations, are in danger or becoming hawkers of meaningless tokens of class status (degrees).

    I believe that there is an answer that is simple in concept but difficult in execution: We should scrap practice of dividing our lives into a "learning" epoch followed by a "doing" epoch, and live our lives as a single phase of "learning-doing".

    The first steps in this program would look like this:

    (1) Emphasize cooperative education programs (where students work in various fields to pay for and to enrich their educations.

    (2) Provide more affordable paths to the current benchmark degrees (BS/BA) for nontraditional students.

    (3) Deemphasize the four year path to degrees in favor of much longer ones intermixing work and study.

    (4) Introduce more specific technical credentials (e.g. networks or compilers rather than Comp Sci) that could be achieved in shorter times. Use these rather than broader BA/BS degrees for entry level credentials. Creating these credentials should not be left to people with an economic interest in mindshare (e.g. MSCE). BA/BS should be more honorary, and require actual real life contributions in the field (e.g. a novel written or a computer system developed).

    (5) Change the relationship of Universities to their alumni. Universities likewise divide our lives into a "student" epoch (when we learn) and a "alumnus" epoch (when we fund). Universities should use technology and other means to change their relationship so that people who would otherwise be "alumni" will still continue to learn from them and get academic counselling for the rest of their lives. As it stands, the system is now a fraud, where a sentimental fiction of connection with the alumnus is maintained so he can be milked for cash. The relationship to the alumnus should be real, substantive and robust.

    (6) Provide for educational sabbaticals in all jobs, especially professional ones. These sabbatical should be used both for liberal pursuits as well as gaining technical skills.

Work is the crab grass in the lawn of life. -- Schulz