In the article “Should dropouts trade up?” published in the Times Higher Education by Brian Bloch on the 6th February 2014 issue, excellent challenges around dropouts was discussed. Dropout rates in the entire Europe have been on the rise and Germany, UK and Denmark are among the ones where dropouts are comparably lower. Nevertheless, dropouts are enormous and the issue is not only limited to higher education; it extends to unemployment and benefits.
Apparent reasons for dropouts are also discussed but sadly shortcomings of academia are not even recognized.
First pointed out reason is that students are unable to cope with the demands of higher study. Getting back to the admissions procedure, on what basis do we recruit students? Are we able to determine the true interest and talents of the student? If so, the student, in this recession economy arranges funds and joins a university with a lot of internal and external expectations. Dropping out means ending those expectations and waste of hard earned finances. Why a student would chose to dropout if expectations, career and money are at stake?
Second point mentions unstimulating and dull courses, which I can absolutely second. Academic rankings of Higher Education Universities depend crucially on publications and research. Academics are busy pleading grants, writing publications and the least time is devoted to making the courses interesting. In fact, the value of creative and entertaining courses is absolutely ignored by the majority. Where it is used, student performances speak for it.
An off cited reason that Brain suggests is that the work is dry and theoretical. I consider this as a very important reason. To work in academia as professors, we trim down our extra bits and push ourselves to fit in the ‘academic box’. Epidemically, we push our students to fit in those boxes. If there is extra talent (which is almost in every student in some area), we don’t know what to do with it. So we tell them to stick to the instructions or the ‘manual’ of academic life. While instructions are important, they also kill initiative and creativity. We program and instruct robots and computers, not human beings. But in this computer age, we go too far to instruct and program students which is why, they snap out.
Career Coach Martin Wehrle has discussed the push-pull approach to dropouts and its impact. He says that advising students to hang in there can achieve the opposite and asking them to pack up can lead to determination. I disagree with this superficial and vague approach to dropouts. Students do not achieve on being pulled and also don’t just get put off by being pushed. They dropout because of personal inclinations which are more complex.
When a student is thinking of dropping out, academics are supposed to channelize their interest and energy rather than take the push-pull approach. But academics are busy. While most universities have career counseling departments these days, professors and lecturers need to take this responsibility and attempt to connect with students rather than someone who doesn’t know what is going on in the classroom. They certainly can help in many ways too but the connection and responsibility of the educator must not be neglected.
Mr. Wehrle further suggested that dropouts have to compensate in life in some way because it is not always possible to accumulate sufficient life and work experience to outweigh the knowledge and status accorded by a university degree. I have an extremely contradictory perspective because this shows what is wrong with conventional wisdom and is also evidence why students’ dropout, why the economy is paying for benefits and unemployed youth.
While university degrees give us knowledge and wisdom, it is never a guarantee for sufficient life anymore. Keeping the elitist institutions aside, if getting MBA means working at McDonald or K.F.C restaurants for minimum wage or at most become a team leader or supervisor at Tesco or Primark, we must seriously question ourselves and our system.
As educationists, our fundamentals are wrong. In the same issue of 6th February 2014, is an interview with Martha J. Kanter who was made US under-secretary of education in President Obama’s administration and is now a visiting professor of higher education at New York University. Among other questions of an amazing interview is a question on the worth of an undergraduate degree. Her answer “From a good college or university, it’s a gateway to a job with a family sustaining wage and a better quality of life”.
Reality check- our youth, graduated or not, has no jobs(PhD janitors are a norm); family sustaining wage is actually not even self sustaining, thanks to inflation (taxes we pay to the unemployed); better quality of life suggests the 9 to 5 rut, packed in a high tower glass building with extreme workload and running in the endless race of buying houses that we don’t have time to live in, cars which barely drive us from home to work and raise families whom we cannot spend time with.
Marianne Cantwell, the author of Be a Free Range Human- Escape the 9 to 5, create a life you love and still pay the bills is the best example of what the so called quality life comes with degrees that Martha J. Kanter is talking about. What is surprising to me is that Martha has not once mentioned knowledge and wisdom. As academics, we don’t have to ‘sell’ education to students in order to make business out of their mismanaged dreams and expectations of academia. We must rather as mentors guide them and show that they come to university for knowledge and wisdom which they could use as a means to get a purposeful life. This purposeful life doesn’t necessarily come with a materialistic 9 to 5 life.
Academics cannot blame students for dropping out. An article in the same issue by Holly Else on “Doctoral training now closer to employers needs” talks about the different worlds of academia, business and governments. On papers and talks we emphasize the engagement between academia and governments/businesses/charities but at the same time our actions do not support our words. Academia only accepts people to be strictly abstract in the scholarly environment where a person has to be passive in their own work; ‘I’ is unacceptable. We pressurize ourselves into these boxes which we call academic world and engaging becomes impossible due to the different languages we speak.
Academic integrity is one thing but keeping a stiff upper lip is how academia is responsible for dropouts and no engagements with governments, industry and charities.
If knowledge and wisdom is about sharing, then why should there be these fundamentalist boxes which define academia so fanatically? Being open to creativity and less robotic programming of our students, genuine motivation, ability to handle and hone unique talents and energies and brilliantly channelize and recruit it into right course is the solution; not just to dropouts but also to many other pressing economic and social issues.