The college education

Last week a friend showed me a global report which stated that about 42% of students who went to college, failed then quit. About 68% college graduates have to work in jobs that had nothing to do with their education. He lamented: “Today anyone can go to college regardless of their ability that is why so many failed or cannot find job.”

I disagreed: “It is easy to blame students' ability for their failure but the fact is it is only a small factor. To get accepted into college, students have to pass entrance exams to determine their qualified for college admission. The main reason for their failure is lack of preparation due to some misconceptions and limited guidance.”

He was surprised: “So what do you propose?”

I explained: “If you want to help students to succeed, you must deal with their college readiness and motivation. It means you must provide them with proper information to eliminate some misconceptions about college, fields of study, and academic obstacles. You must give them clear instructions on how to prepare for college and motivate them to succeed. To some professors, this is extra works as most see their jobs are to teach not to advice. They refer students to school advisors but many advisors do not have enough academic knowledge or industry information to guide students. Some advisors told me that their main job is to recruit students and enroll them in university with minimum guidance about career directions.”

He was curious: “So how can students get the right information and guidance?”

I explained: “It is students' responsibility to investigate the university, the field of study, and market trends. Today there are many information available on the internet and educational websites. Since it is their future, students must be responsible for themselves to investigate it properly. They cannot rely on somebody to tell them what to do, what to study, or what university to go to but must make decision for themselves based on their own information. They must understand that a college degree is no longer a guarantee for job but it is their knowledge and skills that they learn in college that get them the desired job. They must investigate the market trends to select the fields of study that are in high demand in their local market. They must read more about the global and economy trends. Traditionally, parents have a lot of influence on their children but in this fast changing market, many parents may not have enough information to guide their children because they are busy. The best way is for students to do their own research and discuss that with their parents.”

My friend seemed convinced: “That is reasonable but it does not guarantee that they will succeed even they select the right university and fields of study?”

I explained: “Selecting the right university and the right field of study is only half way. Students must be prepared for their college study and be ready to take the challenge. Most first year students are often confused when they start college. The environment is not as friendly as compare to high school so they need a lot of guidance and supports in the first year. Most first year students are motivated but need more guidance. They need someone to guide them out of their confusion and fear. Unfortunately the common attitude among professors is to set high standards in the first year to eliminate weak students so they do not have to deal with them later. This is a fact, that I have experienced myself when I was first year student in college. I was confused, scared and did not do well since many first year classes was difficult and professors were strict. It took me a long time to overcome this obstacles so when I became a professor, I spent more time to work with first year students to eliminate their fears and confusion. For students who may have some weaknesses, I advised them to take remedial classes to prevent them from failing. Younger students need to build their confidence and they need time to adjust to college. By encourage them to take some remedial classes to improve their skills, attitudes and to gain confidence, most can overcome academic obstacles. To many professors and school administrators, education is about teaching and learning but not much about career guidance. This attitude must change as school counselors and professors need to engage students early about career planning and skills development as part of the college education. It is imperative for universities to provide students with the skills and mindset of “Being employable over a lifetime.”

Today with the high unemployment rates among college graduates, parents and students are concerned about their education investment and universities must be part of the solution by providing them the best information available. I believe all first year students must be given enough information about which fields of study are in high demand in the local job market as well as the list of graduates who get job related to their fields of study. That will help them to make the right decision and to select something that they have better chance of getting jobs relating to their education.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

You may like

"Like" us to know more!