What do college students want? I mean, why do they go to college anyway?
Well, they want a degree because going through life without one is tougher than going through life with one. At least that’s what everyone says. They want an interesting experience in college, something other than long lectures in vast echo chambers. And the research tells us they want their education to prepare them “to get a good job.” In fact, 75% of students today say that’s the case, in contrast to 20 years ago when 33% of students said so.
Even more telling: “From 1970 to 2006, the percentage of college freshmen who consider ‘being well-off financially’ to be an essential or very important goal has increased from 36.2% to 73.6%, while the percentage of freshmen who consider ‘acquiring a meaningful philosophy of life’ to be essential or very important has decreased from 79% to 39%,” according to a paper authored by The Hampshire College Working Group, “The Liberal Arts as Preparation for a Life of Work.”
So, keeping that in mind, imagine a college student (prospective or enrolled) cruising a university web site shopping for a major. He’s trying to get an idea what different schools and departments offer, what the experience would be like, and how prepared he’d be for the future.
Kristi Lodge, Associate Director of Career Services at the University of Oregon, sent me a note the other day pointing out the rather striking differences in the ways their College of Business and their English department expresses what these two disciplines offer. First, the College of Business:
“Since 1884 the Charles H. Lundquist College of Business has taught its students the critical skills they need to think for themselves, to be entrepreneurial leaders in a dynamic world, and to make better decisions on behalf of the people and resources they manage.”
Then the website goes on to explain that students will work on real projects for real companies, gaining first-hand experience even before they graduate.
Meanwhile, here’s how the UO English Department describes itself:
“Our nearly 50 full-time faculty members are committed to offering students a broad foundation in traditional British, American, and Anglophone literary studies, as well as intensive coursework in interdisciplinary studies, emerging media, and current critical methodologies.”
Kristi comments, “I think the differences are very striking. The LCB (Lindquist College of Business) identifies three things it says it will teach students to do: to think for themselves, to be leaders who are comfortable with change, to be good decision-makers and managers of people and resources. The English Department’s statement is focused on what the faculty do. One is focused on the future and one on what the student will learn as an English major.”
Now, imagining our prospective student cruising the website trying to size up an exciting and promising future, which would be more compelling?
In case you think I’m just picking on U of O, how about this, from the English department’s website at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign)?
“We are a dynamic and diverse community committed to the study and teaching of British, American and anglophone literature and film, Creative Writing, and Writing Studies. Our tradition of first-rate, cutting-edge research, together with the exceptional productivity of our faculty, has meant that we are consistently ranked among the top twenty English departments in the nation.”
Compared to this from their College of Business:
“Knowledge. Innovation. Leadership. In the College of Business at Illinois, a passion for excellence drives how we learn, teach, research and engage in the business world. Accountancy, business, and finance curricula integrate with innovative methods and ideas to nurture leadership potential.”
This isn’t (obviously) intended to be an exhaustive analysis of how English departments and Colleges of Business describe their offerings. I’m simply pointing out that at least some English (and other Liberal Arts) departments are missing an opportunity to articulate that they offer not only quality faculty and traditional education, but that what they deliver translates into action—the knowledge, skills and abilities Liberal Arts majors will take with them into their professional futures.
Because they do, you know.