Top 3 Complaints About my College Education

I’ve said it in exit interviews and surveys to my alma mater, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I’ve discussed this with peers and former professors. Now, in a quick break from whY genY’s series on “Not Everyone gets a Trophy” by Bruce Tulgan, here are three serious problems with the way my formal education was structured — changes requiring organizational change coming from top leadership down.

1. Easier Access to Cross-Discipline Education

For me, I wanted to minor in Spanish through the College of Arts and Sciences, but as a non- CoAS major, the requirements were different based on their Plan A or Plan B models. As a College of Journalism and Mass Communications major, I had to take more classes in my minor than I would have if I’d been in the major sequence. As major universities lose students to technical programs and community colleges that provide better vocational and job-specific training, universities must adapt by providing customized education paths.

Who else would this help? The engineering major who wants to minor in music because he believes the mathematical nature of a music education would actually add to his knowledge base as an engineer, as well as make him a more unique candidate in a tough job market. The graphic designer who has a fine arts major and wants to beef up his programming knowledge with courses in online application development.

Universities can’t keep up with the rapid changes to the marketplace by only focusing on modifying only their own college’s course series, classroom programming, teachers, etc. It makes sense for everyone to  simply modify degree requirements and create more apples-to-apples scenarios to allow for this kind of cross training. It requires more cooperation at an administrative level to allow for cross-collaboration on different degree sequences, major-minor combinations or concentrations accepted by the institution.

2. Real-life Application

I was always appalled by how few classes required me as a student to contribute real-life and current applications for the theories taught in classrooms. While I recognize a “points system” based on smaller assignments is an additional workload for professors already grading papers, quizzes and exams, smaller and more consistent “outside in” emphasis would widen the classroom experience in dramatic ways.

Professors could require weekly 2-min oral presentations by all students on hot topics in their field, summarizing important articles in trade publications  or highlighting recent mass media about a given trend, just to start. Possibilities are infinite, but students have to be forced into making their education real and incentivized to do so through existing grading processes.

3. Making it Too Easy

This is college — not High School 2.0. It’s a privilege still reserved for the few who can afford or earn it. Some professors seem to forget that. I know disciplines based on hard answers, like math and science fields, are tough. My friends in biochemistry worked their butts off.

But in more subjective fields where grading and work is based on papers and reports without “right” answers,  professors must take a hard stance on requiring actual thought, application of key ideas and adherence to deadlines. Too many ‘C’ students have a 3.5 GPA.

Much has been said about Gen Y’s consumer mentality in regards to education, and Bruce Tulgan’s work even cites a student who itemized the tuition dollars he lost for each course missed by an absentee instructor. While that customer orientation has some validity in my mind in the case of absenteeism, it doesn’t work just to bolster self-esteem of students or fend off helicopter parents. Professors shouldn’t be pressured by administration or students to grade easily, be ‘friends’ with students (supporters, sure, but educators, not friends) or be worried about discouraging students early in their career path.

Make Gen Y tough. The real world, especially now, will make us too bitter too quickly unless we learn coping mechanisms and how to take constructive criticism in college.


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