The dying bachelor: the arts degree

TORONTO (CUP) – Earlier this year, a Toronto Star investigation found that sometimes all one has to do to get a degree is pay money. The Star had reporters go through some programs at small colleges across the GTA. They found that success could be had in the form of a degree without having to learn much of anything. This, it turns out, can be done many bogus colleges for a tuition fee.

The problem with this is that the people who acquire these pseudo-certifications are set free into the world with the resume to get a job, but without the adequate qualifications to perform that particular job. They come out of school uninformed and incapable, in any real sense, of surviving in the real world.

What frightens me is not that I could, if the particular urge appeared, be at risk of receiving a manicure or pedicure from a bumbling idiot whose experience may not go beyond a fast food job and the payment of a $3,500 tuition fee. Instead, I fear bogus colleges are not alone in taking tuition fees and shooting out incompetent students into the real world.

It is becoming increasingly frightening for students who are completing bachelor degrees at reputable universities across the country that aren’t always worth the money paid in tuition.
Let’s take the University of Toronto, one of the country’s largest post-secondary institutions.

There are currently over 70,000 students enrolled and of those, 21,000 are undergraduate students enrolled in arts and sciences who, if successful, will graduate with a BA or B.Sc. degree. Canada-wide, there are about 800,000 undergraduates enrolled, over half of which aim to attain similar degrees.

When most students see such statistics they immediately think about the enormous class sizes that inevitably go with such a large student population. I see a serious problem approaching for the modern student.

The increasing prevalence of the bachelor degree means increased competition in, as many would argue, a dwindling job market for the type of skills gained during undergraduate study.

Let’s consider the bachelor of arts degree specifically. Yes, it is true that students striving for this degree accumulate unquantifiable benefits that they will never forget so long as they are alive, and so on. Beyond that petty justification, the BA student is taught two very important skills: critical thinking and the expression of those critical thoughts.

This is wonderful. This is great. The only problem is that these students are largely taught these skills through an exhaustive and prolonged investigation of texts in their entirety. A keen eye will notice, and the people at Google have some of the keenest of eyes, that the modern world is rarely excited by the idea of exhaustive or prolonged investigations of any kind.

This is the kind of world that will press the refresh button incessantly if a webpage does not come up immediately. It is a world that is obsessed with quick fixes and energy drink bonanzas. There is little patience for timely examination, which largely is all the BA student is used to.

In the first year of my BA degree I came upon a professor who told me about Google’s thoughts on the university. The mega search company Google, which my professor personified, predicts the university degree will soon be inadequate for most jobs. He told me that Google believed that undergraduate students, especially students involved in the arts, will be ill-equipped for the real world.

How much can an ability to critically examine a work in its entirety be worth if someone can find that particular text through Google’s database and extrapolate the necessary information through the simple process of hitting Ctrl+F on the keyboard?

It is for this reason, my professor said, that Google would rather hire a video game addict straight out of his/her basement than a well-dressed and freshly graduated young adult. The difference is that the gamer is used to critical thinking in an efficient manner as problems arise within the games, whereas the post-secondary graduate is used to analyzing at a much slower pace.

There is a reason why we purchase automobiles over horses as modes of transportation.

Of course, the undergraduate degree has not become a horse just yet, but there can be no denying that the world is progressing towards cold, hard efficiency. For this reason it may be worthwhile to explore the reasons why so many students are still enrolling for undergraduate degrees.

One answer is as simple as it is frightening: young adults are expected to attend post-secondary institutions after acquiring a high school diploma. This has become the norm, which allows it to be easily taken for granted or done without adequate consideration.

We are a part of a generation that increasingly believes that a college or university degree is necessary for future employment – probably true for the most part. Unfortunately, we are also a part of a society that moves faster than a cheetah drunk on Red Bull and whiskey.

I am not claiming the bachelor degree is obsolete. That would be unfair. Instead, I contend that it is an overrated piece of paper that is depreciating slowly. Of course, this will serve as a weeding out process for those who fail to find effective and creative ways to advertise themselves to a world scrambling to provide jobs for its citizens.

Not too long ago it was widely assumed that a college or university education provided one with a superior job than those who stuck with high school diplomas. Now, many undergraduates are walking away from school finding themselves in the same position as those high school diploma holders, but with enormous debt.

Talk about a bogus college experience.

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