I challenge you to look at my transcript and tell me what my major is. I have a mythology course on there, next to Introduction to Single Camera Documentary Filmmaking, more than a few levels of Spanish, some yoga, religious studies, some engineering classes wherein we are building and launching a venture in Africa, and credits for a camping trip. I always thought that college was a time to run rampant on the intellectual jungle gym that is higher education. My Dad used to tell me that I should take the widest array of classes possible. In applying to schools, I read through their class offerings and could not wait to take Introduction to Glass Blowing, Typography, Industrial Design, and programming classes of the widest variety. After all, college is the time to explore, to bush-whack and to stumble onto things that I’d never before considered. Shockingly, it took me until my Junior year (more accurately, last week) to realize the truth.
I knew that students were taking easy GenEds so that they could cheat their way through, and that people weren’t always pushing themselves to explore, and that’s ok. I figured that was just their loss; less competition on my end for seats in cool classes. When the cool introductory classes stopped cutting it I tried to push the envelope. I pursued Independent studies in Mechanical Engineering and Business Management, higher level film courses and other exciting support of minor courses for minors I wasn’t in. I was in love with exploring, with making the most of my time at University Park. I was playing with Apple watches, deploying code to Heroku, and producing short films with equipment I didn’t even know existed. If I’m spending thousands of dollars in tuition, I’m going to squeeze as much value out of them as possible. Pushing the envelope is what I was, and still am, all about. It was when I tried to turn it up to 11 and graduate a year early that the bubble popped - the curtains were pulled back and I saw all of the bullsh*t. And a steaming pile of it at that.
As I tried to get into higher level courses and have them to count for far less intensive GenEd requirements on my degree, I was met with more pushback than the UN dealing with Putin. In order to get these higher level courses to fulfill some of the lower level requirements, I had to use a secret form that only a persistent few have been able to uncover (and my advisor had never seen before. He didn’t believe it was real when I first showed it to him).
There were available seats in these classes, plenty of them, so I wasn’t bumping people who needed them. What I was doing was forcing people to do their job, to give a little bit of a damn and to make a decision - which I realized a lot of the University faculty don’t like to do. This shocked me. I had always thought other students just didn’t care to explore, but in fact the University was actively discouraging it. I couldn’t believe it. Why wouldn’t they let me explore my interests? Try and find out what makes me happy? Take harder than required courses? Become more well rounded? The answer I uncovered let me down harder than when Winston succumbed to Big Brother at the end of “1984”; harder than finding out that Santa isn’t real (of course I’m kidding kids, Santa is real).
The University doesn’t care about you, they don’t care about me. That’s what I realized. They don’t care about us growing and exploring. That’s not efficient, it takes effort, costs money. All they care about is making money. So how do they optimize for that? They try and get students out in 4 years - or less -, into jobs right away - and not just any jobs, but jobs in a sector where you can make as much money as quickly as possible.
So how do they get a high volume of students out in 4 years or less? Let’s make it easier. All of it - easier. Make entrance requirements easier, classes easier, graduation requirements easier. We require everyone to take a public speaking class, so let’s put it online, let them just talk to a camera in their room - that’ll make it easier and cheaper. Is it still public speaking? Who cares! Students also seem to be struggling with coordinating teams and building software. Then let’s make the technical classes all theoretical. Boom! - barrier removed! Keep moving through the system. GO! GO! GO! Don’t stop! No questioning! Drink from the firehose and don’t look back!
How do they get us into these jobs so easily? They have meetings with prospective companies. They sell the companies the right to influence our curriculum. Companies need entry level hires to do XYZ specialized task, so suddenly XYZ task replaces ABC broader, less restricting topic on the curriculum.
Here is what someone in advising said when asked about certain degree requirements. I’ve run it through Google’s Bullsh*t Translator so that it’s easier to understand what he is really trying to say, “KPMG doesn’t want you to be more well-rounded - that’s too hard to codify - they don’t care that you studied Greco-Roman literature, they want you to study specific corporate structures out of context in such a brutally redundant and miserable fashion that you’ll want to punch your mom right in the face. That’s what KPMG is paying us for. Sorry. If you want someone to listen then head over to CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services), don’t come here. Can I assist you with anything else today?”
Not only do they put these topics into the curriculum, they also tell students that making money, knowing Excel, and working at Booz-Allen is all that matters. Leveraging social pressures and exploiting people’s insecurities makes that task light work.
God forbid if you come knocking as a small company or a non-profit that wants to solve a real-world problem on a smaller, leaner budget. You can’t afford to eat at this table. Your best bet is to create an informal relationship with a student club and get to them before the school does. You can’t afford the career fairs, to have an untargeted email spammed out to the student body, or to hire students who are told that becoming rich is all that matters. You aren’t financially worth the University’s time. Maybe one day at these organizations a student will make $100,000. One day. Or they can start at $80,000 with Deloitte. The University will see a much faster return on their student if they take that consulting job. They are like a VC, they don’t care about you - the student -, they care about getting a return on their investment immediately. So why would they push for anything else?