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Writing Across the Curriculum

 

Holloway Hall

University and Technical Educations:
Are They the Same?
Tylor Claggett
Economics and Finance

A remarkable, largely unnoticed, transformation has taken place in higher education. I am referring to a blurring of the lines of distinction between the university experience and the technical school experience. This transformation has important consequences for students, parents, tax payers, those that hire recent graduates and all of society.

About forty years ago, education policy makers recognized the need for university graduates (society’s problem solvers and innovative thinkers) and for technical school graduates (society’s skilled workers accomplishing multifaceted, often repetitive, complex tasks).

Community college systems multiplied as their graduates were valued employees. These institutions paralleled the existing university systems. They attracted many non college bound high school graduates and trained them to be productive members of society. So what changed? Actually, many things changed.

Many two-year schools “grew up” and became new four-year colleges and universities. A growing population, accompanied by increases in those wanting four-year university degrees was one cause for this phenomenon. Another was the desire of administrators to grow their institutions. A viable way to get more resources from state legislatures was to advocate for a four-year school in the local area. Local state representatives gladly accommodated because a new four-year institution was a tangible accomplishment in any re-election campaign. Finally, many comprehensive universities became too large to manage effectively. Increasing enrollments taxed parking, traffic, classroom, lab, and housing infrastructures. More regional four-year schools seemed like the remedy.

Complacent four-year universities and colleges often failed to court state legislatures when traditional college tuitions and other fees began to increase rapidly. Community colleges convinced many that a less expensive alternative was for many students to live at home for two years and attend the local community college before transferring to a larger, more comprehensive traditional state university.

The four-year schools ignored proposals by two-year schools for individual bilateral articulation agreements by which students could transfer and have previous community college credit count toward selected four-year degrees. Again, due to good lobbying by the two-year schools, the responses to these cool receptions were the drafting of across-the-board articulation agreements between entire community college systems and same state traditional universities. These were more or less forced upon traditional public colleges and universities because of political pressure.

General articulation agreements represented a cu-de-taut for community colleges because they allowed them to promote themselves as low cost avenues to four-year educations. Community colleges typically enjoy labor cost advantages because their faculties normally have lower academic qualifications, higher teaching loads and fewer, if any, research requirements. Other differences are an absence of many extra curricular activities such as intercollegiate sports teams and a lack of on-campus housing and dining facilities.

There appears to be a coming together of the curriculums at both types of institutions. University curriculums seem to focus less now on problem solving skills, philosophic thought and liberal arts while many two-year school curriculums have drifted away from customary vocational training. Is it necessary for a professor with a high profile Ph.D. to teach multiple sections of most freshman courses? Are courses at community colleges really equivalent to the “same” courses at comprehensive universities? When young people live at home, does it make for better students? Does living away from home help students develop a sense of independence and self reliance? Are tax payers poorly served by funding construction for new dorms when many undergraduate students would rather live off-campus? Do employers and society need more problem solvers or technicians? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding “it depends.”

In conclusion, the need for both classic university and traditional technical educations is, in all likelihood, greater now than ever. Most policy makers and the public seem to have lost sight of the distinction. They consider all types of education to be the same with interchangeable parts. This could be a costly blunder, especially with greater global competition and more rapidly changing business, political and social environments.
 

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