Monday, February 9, 2009

Revamping college education

While reading a seemingly innocuous post by Bruce Nussbaum, I was inspired to write something I've been thinking about for a while regarding the way our collegiate system is set up. Here are my thoughts

As a recent Mechanical Engineering graduate from Northeastern University...

I don't know if I would go as far as to say that admins are trying to prep students for a world that doesn't exist. However, I do think that the method in which they go about educating the students is in a manner that is more conducive to a more rigid, pre open-source era, and less so to the world of today...

The collegiate experience (at least academically) consists of a list of books you should read to become a professional "____", professor's to guide you along the way, and a surrounding of like-minded people.

Of those three, I believe the sense of community one gets from working with people that are passionate about the same subject is the most irreplacable. The curricula for almost any course can be downloaded from an increasing number of universities (MIT Open Courseware and Stanford iTunes are the first that come to mind). The professors (for the most part) can be replaced by online forums and industry professionals who (again, for the most part) are more than willing to discuss a topic here and there with a passionate student.

I think it best if companies ends their love affair with degrees. Why not put the onus of proving competence on the licensing institutions? Engineers have the Professional Engineer Exam, Lawyers have the bar exam, etc. If I did not have an engineering degree, but passed the Professional Engineer Exam (which only ~65% of degreed Mechanical Engineer's have done), who is to say that i cannot practice as an engineer?

I envision a future where Universities offer student's varying packages. On one end you have the all-inclusive, lifelong-debt-incurring programs of today, and on the other end of the spectrum, you have a package that consists of lab usage, library access, career counseling, and an ability to cherry pick which classes you attend (so that you don't have to take say, algebra I, but you have the option to take quantum physics). These students will achieve their learning through MIT OCW, netowrking, etc. At the end of every semester or so, each student has the opportunity to take the same test. These tests will just provide feedback to the students so that they know how well they are doing. As mentioned before, this process is culminated in licensing exams provided by the appropriate licensing bureau.

You want to talk about stifling innovation? The crippling debt so many of us are graduating with prevents the fiscally responsible of us from taking the kind of chances that are required to achieve great things.

-Chris Loughnane

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