For decades, career placement has been a crucial selling point for universities of all locations, acceptance rates, and levels of prestige. Colleges advertising the median salaries of their recent alumni is a common occurrence on academic websites, and internships are often accompanied by collegiate course credit.
Undergraduate students often view general education requirements as unnecessary in earning their more specialized degrees, which commonly become more career-focused in the latter half of baccalaureate programs.
However, there are many academics who have a much more old-school perspective of undergraduate programs. In a 2019 interview with Inside Higher Ed, Johann N. Neem, history professor at Western Washington University, argues that colleges should focus on the implementation of a more well-rounded education system. In the interview, he provides context for his book, What’s the Point of College?
“I simply think one should go to college to pursue a liberal education. After that, if one wants job training, they should go to a technical college, participate in an apprenticeship or go to graduate or professional school. But college itself is not to prepare for specific jobs,” said Neem.
In his interview, Neem even goes as far as to call for the end of the business major, claiming they go against the purpose of an undergraduate academic institution, which should be focused on liberal arts.
“The case for ending business majors is pretty simple. I start by asking, ‘What is college for?’ Majors or courses of study that do not fit -- and this can extend beyond business to certain health and technical majors as well -- have no reason to be there. I believe that whatever financial payoff the business major may have, it detracts from the fundamental kinds of study that people in college should be doing.” said Neem.
However, as the cost of tuition continues to climb, it is difficult to view college through the lens of traditional academics like Neem. The total student loan debt in the United States reached an all time high of $1.5 trillion in 2020. For most students, attending a technical or graduate degree immediately after college is not a financially viable option.
Perhaps in an ideal world, all undergrads could focus their attention on the liberal arts and save career training for another program. For many students, though, using their bachelor’s degree as a tool to pay off their loans is the best option they have at building a financially stable life for themselves.