Globalizing Our Education

President Joseph Urgo attended the annual American Association of Colleges and Universities Conference on Jan. 27, along with Dean of the Core Curriculum, Libby Nutt Williams, Assistant Dean of the Core Curriculum, Ruth Feingold, and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Larry Vote.

The conference was held in San Francisco and featured discussion on global education and study abroad programs.

“We…present[ed] on what it’s like to go global as a public honors college, since we are one of few,” Williams said.

“Specifically we presented on the challenges that we think can arise. President Urgo talked about what it means to be a public honors college and his vision of public education at a fine liberal arts institution.

Larry Vote, myself, and Ruth Feingold each took a piece of what we thought were the challenges to students.”

The conference included administration representatives from colleges all over the nation, many of whom also presented on what has been happening nationally and internationally in higher education.

“We talked about the challenge of access,” Williams said. “How do we ensure that global education is something that all of our students have access to financially – looking at airfare incentives and potentially developing more scholarships.”

Williams also stressed the importance of providing students with strong interdisciplinary programs, pointing out that the relationship with James Cook University in Australia has allowed more opportunities for biology majors to study abroad.

The panel also presented on the Core Curriculum’s Experiencing the Liberal Arts in the World (ELAW) requirement, which can be satisfied through studying abroad, though students can also participate in an internship, take certain experimental courses, put together directive research or conduct an independent study.

“I spoke about the ways the ELAW requirement ideally will encourage students to study abroad and [how] such study can combine with the rest of their college coursework,” Feingold said, explaining that international study should not be seen merely as an “add-on” or a vacation.

“Students should think…about how such study can contribute to their overall educational and personal goals.”

According to Williams, a major point that the panel made was the idea of  “amalgamation,” meaning that studying abroad should not just be tacked on and should instead blend in with the rest of the student’s education.

This is achieved through advising, helping students think about study abroad opportunities early on, and through reflective essays that ELAW participants are required to submit.

“Americans are a peculiar people,” Feingold said, expressing that many people remain “willfully ignorant of the world around us than almost any other nation” despite the resources to travel.

Feingold also said that she wanted to combat this by having students study abroad, gaining “a specific knowledge of the world beyond our national borders” and “an increased sense of independence and confidence, bred of their realization that they must — and can — manage themselves in very unfamiliar surroundings.”

“It is important for students to understand the scholarly world as well as the world in practice,” Williams said. “Things like study-abroad can transform a person’s perspective on the world, and the world is very global now.”

The Political Science Classroom Should Be About More Than Just What’s in the Textbook

The Political Science major needs to be renamed Public Policy, and political science majors should get their money back.

When I declared as a political science major I was under the impression that I would learn something about, you know… politics. Instead, the classes are mostly about policy, which is fine but not what I signed up for.

Policy represents a wholly different field from politics. Enacting policy requires different skills and knowledge than formulating policies. Even political analysis (not POSC 300, as it is titled, but the process of analyzing a political situation) asks entirely different questions and seeks a different goal than policy analysis.

One asks what should be done, while the other asks how to do it.

I am not saying the two should be completely separate. If you ask any politician what the most important skill in politics is, they will all say fundraising. Yet, save for the occasional update on Presidential or Gubernatorial spending, fundraising goes undiscussed in Kent Hall.

Same goes for the basics of campaigning — door knocking, phone banking and GOTV.

Even when it comes to legislative politics, we learn how many votes it takes but not how to get them. Constituent services and departmental organization, a necessity for any future congressional staffers, are never mentioned.

College classes should be about more than just the books on the reading list. If for no other reason than if all we get out class comes from a book, we spent thousands of dollars on an education that could be bought for $8.99, maybe $19.99 if it is hardcover.

Too often classes are simply a professor walking students through a book without injecting any knowledge that could not otherwise be obtained — things like stories from the campaign trail or a legislative strategy that turned a dead bill into a resounding success.

That would be knowledge that would prepare students for something more than just graduate school.

This is not a general argument about theoretical vs. practical education. If the last two years have taught us anything, it is that politics in one of the few fields that being right or having the answer is just not enough; policy devoid of the political skills it takes to enact policy is a waste of time.

In the vein of last month’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, allow me to steer towards the center. Despite my radical lead intended to get you to actually read my inane nonsense, I don’t really believe political science majors should get their money back. The broader point is that when it comes to the field of politics a purely theoretical education is just not enough.

I spent the summer and most of the fall working on political campaigns, yet nothing I had learned in any class had prepared me for the campaigns. There is even theoretical work that would have helped, but that I did not receive: How about learning the various grass roots campaign strategies?

Or different fundraising models? Or how to translate complex policies into somewhat understandable language?

The disconnect between the classroom and the real world that so many politicians like to harp on (see any speech with the phrase “liberal, academic elite”) does exists. It exists, however, not because political scientists ignore those on ‘main street’ but because they either ignore or do not understand the political environment that their policies must get through to help those on ‘main street’.

To Professors: Please work on closing the gap between the classroom and careers that your students will likely head for.

To Political Science Majors: Do an internship, work for your elected officials, join a campaign — anything that will help you actually enact the policy work you do here.

Counter-Point: Theoretical Education Makes Students More Competitive

The college classroom is a place of irreplaceable pedagogical value. Its students leave with greater knowledge and greater opportunities. However, should the college classroom be place of practical teaching or theoretical teaching?

The college classroom should focus on the theory behind subjects rather than practical applications. There are two types of training as defined in the study of labor economics: (1) general training, defined as “training that once acquired is equally useful in all,”; and (2) specific training, defined as “training that enhances productivity only in for what it was acquired.”

In this respect, it is unwise and unjust for college students to focus their classroom learning on practical teachings as this is a form of “specific training.” The downside to specific training is that the investment is lost if the student changes jobs, location, etc.

As practical teachings must be specific and focused, students would be disadvantaged by only learning one form or one avenue of a certain subject. Furthermore, recent college graduates are purported to change jobs multiple times, especially in the first four years after graduation.

It is this reality that makes general training and a classroom focused on theory more attractive than the option discussed above. If students are taught a more broad and theory-based curriculum, then students are more competitive in the job market come graduation.

A theoretical and broad education allows students to enter into many different job markets, allowing more mobility, freedom, and opportunity. Whereas the specific training of practical teaching is lost when a student may change employment, the general training of theoretical teaching stays with a student through all jobs.

Higher education’s focus on theory has positively correlated with an increase in the wage premium of college graduates to high school graduates. By 2008, the wage premium for college graduates relative to high school graduates was roughly 100 percent.

The focus on theory and general training has not only increased competitiveness of college graduates, but also employer demand for college graduates Ergo, the wage of college graduates increases.

Examining the age-earnings profile of college graduates, the earnings over time of college graduates has a rather large progressive increase as age increases. Although the progressive increase would still exist with a focus on practical teachings or specific training, the absolute level of earnings would decrease because of the reasons discussed above.

Through this perspective of labor economics, it should be rather obvious that college students’ financial fortunes depend on their competitiveness in the labor market. This competitiveness is obtained through a theoretical education focused on the broad and general.