Some reasons are better than others for why students choose university over college. As young as 16, high school students are required to have a general idea of which post-secondary option they’ll pursue. Students find themselves in university lecture halls because they want to attend law or medical school, because they need a bachelor’s degree to qualify for more career opportunities, or because their parents encouraged—or forced—them to go to university.
University and college offer very different experiences, and for good reason. The pursuit of academic knowledge yields benefits and training that could lead to careers that the practical experience students get at college would not provide, and vice versa.
Too often, students make the mistake of assuming a bachelor’s degree promises a job. Undergraduates learn very quickly that a degree will not suffice in such a competitive job market. As university administrations have come to this realization, they’ve attempted to reform academic programs to reflect the demand for a practically trained workforce.
Still in the process of academic planning, U of T considered the possibility of adding intern or co-op credit opportunities to programs. Western recently announced a new “elite” liberal arts program that will require students to go “out into the real world” and gain practical experience in addition to theory-based learning.
Basically, universities are trying to institutionalize the steps my friends and I have been taking over the last four years: volunteering, working part-time jobs, and interning, all while trucking our way through university. I obtained “real-world” experience through my own efforts, without the added burden on my tuition.
For universities, the issue isn’t that students aren’t seeking out real-world experience. The issue is that theory taught in class doesn’t directly apply to job requirements later on. My paper on the meaning of the Italian word virtu in Machiavelli’s The Prince developed my research skills, but I’ll probably have trouble persuading a potential employer after graduation that this counts as industry experience.
Colleges face the same issue: are their students getting what they need to succeed after graduation? Ontario colleges are lobbying the provincial government to change the diplomas they hand out to degrees. Sheridan argues that the use of the term “diploma” puts college graduates at a disadvantage, since many jobs list a bachelor’s degree as a basic requirement. Ontario colleges say they provide the same training and learning experience as universities, put with the added benefit of practical, hands-on experience.
Universities try to incorporate college training practices while colleges try to obtain the prestige of a university degree, but the mission statements of the two different institutions remain unchanged.
Universities cite research excellence and theory-based learning as cornerstones of their institutional missions. Colleges emphasize customized training and practical innovation. Students can clearly identify the benefits of each educational opportunity and access the appropriate pathway for personal goals.
So will universities and colleges one day merge into one type of mega-educational institution, pumping out exceptionally qualified students? Not likely. But students should be aware of the direction Canada’s education system could take.
In a highly competitive job market, more university undergrads enroll in post-graduate diploma programs at colleges after graduation. In the same way, college graduates enroll in university programs to add the benefit of a bachelor’s degree.
Evidently, students are not receiving adequate training to succeed in today’s economy, but the answer shouldn’t be to wear students out by cramming as much experience and education into three or four years as possible. The issue can be traced all the way back to high school when a 16-year-old has a year to decide what they’re going to do with the rest of their life.
Everyone is so anxious these days to graduate and start earning money. Don’t rush your university experience; U of T offers interesting courses on a variety of topics. Learn to manage your time so you can volunteer and better identify the career direction that’s right for you. If after your four years at U of T (in my case, five) you find yourself in need of extra credentials, don’t be afraid to “lose” a year and intern or enroll in a post-grad program.
Most importantly, don’t let colleges or universities tell you how to learn. You already pay enough money.