Is Academia Archaic?

Is Academia Archaic?

by Shawn Paustian

Recently, I started seeing more articles that a college education was starting to lose value and that millennials are just debt-ridden. Reading all these articles and hearing all these thoughts made me question, “Is academia archaic?” School, for me, began to be less about studying to learn to think of new ideas and thoughts critically and creatively, but rather a way into creating a network and becoming a useful commodity for a business. While certainly not the most horrific change, it got me to thinking about what has happened to the original essence of what academia means.

The pursuit of education and the desire to learn and discover theories lead to the genesis of many universities, including the one I attend now. However, education has seemed to turn towards creation and usefulness due to a focus on mainly consumer technology. The desire to theorize about new laws and principles has been put on the back burners in education. Even in high school and middle school, the basics of being business ready seemed to be the forefront of everything I learned instead of being college ready, granted my schools had a low college matriculation rate. The majors that have the lowest unemployment rates are very utilitarian.

Empirically, most of my colleagues have agreed that being proficient in programming and IT are what will probably get you the job more than your college degree. Unfortunately for me, I took programming courses before, and I found programming to be too unintuitive. Call me an inept programmer, but regurgitating code is not an enjoyable experience nor do I ever want to do it. This realization automatically puts me behind many other people, and I have come to think that my connection to 18th century academia puts me behind the curve in terms of the job market.

If Newton, Voltair, and Locke were to live in current day New York City, I would have a feeling that they would be unemployed as their skills, writings, and research are too vague and impractical to be useful in app development and big data. In terms of the word research in R&D, meandering, thinking, and conceptualizing around with random ideas and thoughts would not seem to fit under any company’s culture as it is inefficient and would most likely lead to nothing profitable. Sure gravity is a cool theory, but how does that help us financially, Newton? While there are definitely answers, they don’t exactly seem to be the exact reason for making a company be in the black.

My affinity towards Ted Talks has always been because of the main headline “Ideas Worth Spreading”. Watching videos ranging from rethinking how we view the universe to learning how to be happy, I garnered a fondness towards being able to just listen to random and even crazy ideas. Some ideas have no use in any consumer or business good, but are extremely fascinating. Sharing these videos with my family, I’ve come across a spectrum of “brilliant and newsworthy” to “what’s the point and that person probably doesn’t have a real source of income.” I mostly heard the latter. Does this mean that some ideas just have no use?

During my time in college, I always was told, “No question is stupid.” That said, I never heard, “No idea is stupid.” Thinking differently and having it diverge from the expected answer, lead to F’s, D’s and C’s, especially in the hard sciences (except for that one rare time there was nothing wrong with one of my exam answer but was different from the key in my organic chemistry class and got full points). What I have gotten out of college is that, everything presented is correct enough to get you a job. There is no need to think beyond what you have learned and question these ideas. While many of the concepts and theories taught have never been proven wrong after hundreds and thousands of experiments, the ability to think different should not punish students to the point of them becoming subordinate in fear of lowering their GPA and potential marketability to companies and professional schools.

Practicalness is useful and has been a driving force of many of the products we use today. However, the products we use are based on the theories founded by the forefathers of scholarly research and academics who created universities and colleges to allow us to follow in their footsteps. Based on the current trend of education, very few people are following these steps. Universities and colleges are trending more on the side of being that of a vocational school–to become business ready. Perhaps after we plateau with the use of the theories already founded, the view on what going to a university means will change.

While some Masters and most PhD programs follow more of the trend of thinking radically, I believe that younger students are not as naive as once viewed by the baby boomers and the focus on research and scholarly pursuit should be fostered into a bachelors degree. Ideas, however wrong, have created foundations under which theories have been built upon and have been tested through time. Think of Galileo’s and Copernicus’s theories of heliocentrism redefining previous notions of Earth’s place in space.

Until academia returns to its original form, I guess I’ll be trying to brush up on my C++ and start studying for the GMAT to get an MBA. Maybe graduate school is a bit different.

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