There is a big difference between training and education. Training is practice in a specific set of skills to allow one to better perform a particular task. Education is broader; it focuses on helping people be better thinkers and consumers of information. Education helps people be more effective in everything, including training. A well educated person can more efficiently learn to do specific tasks when trained, among its many other benefits.

Universities exist to educate, but a lot of people seem to have confused that with training. The other day, I ran across this article which lists majors to avoid. Why? Because they aren’t employable because they don’t train the right skills.

But that’s not the point of college. College education makes for a more cognitively adept employee – one who will be able to adjust to situations that training has not prepared him or her for. And an educated employee can be trained cost effectively to do present tasks, or retrained cost effectively in the future for whatever tasks the changing environment creates. If you’re looking for somebody who just does mindless drone work, why are you bothering with a college grad at all?

The article advises against anthropology because “he problem with majoring in anthropology – like other liberal arts disciplines – is that most opportunities in this field exist in teaching”. That’s a terribly ignorant view of an anthropology major. Anthro majors learn to critically analyze arguments, integrate information across a diverse array of sources, distinguish reliable from unreliable information, master large quantities of information quickly, and work with and understand people. Those are some of the most valued skills out there. And maybe the person doesn’t know how to do accounting: guess what, you can learn that for free from a dozen online sources. An employer who doesn’t realize that better thinkers are the best return on investment… well, you shouldn’t want to work for them because such a lack of foresight suggests the business won’t be competitive long term.

If you’re not an engineer, going on to a PhD, or otherwise in a highly technical field, then it doesn’t matter what you major in – all that matters is that you take advantage of the opportunities to educate yourself. The content you’re learning is secondary to the cognitive growth that occurs while you learn that content. (That said, there may be signal value in your choice of majors – some schools have ‘gut’ majors, and employers may know that students chose those majors so as to not challenge themselves or educate themselves – that may be a good reason to avoid a major, although perhaps those majors are also places you could stand out from the less motivated crowd).

At least once a week I see an article on the Yahoo lead page that suggests that your employment will be largely based on your major. That’s largely a fallacy, and it annoys me that the media keeps propagating it.

  15 Responses to “Training vs. Education: The purpose of college”

  1. College is supposed to teach students to be circumspect and offer up the tools (analytical) and skills an adult needs to give a thorough consideration of a problem. These skills at their most basic are: obtaining primary source data (experiment design, interviewing, library work), understanding the state of thought on a topic (secondary source work, literature review), and knowing how to ask questions of primary source and secondary source data (i.e. stats for quantitative data, criticism/critical-theory of some stripe). College is also supposed to imbue some sense of heritage and respect for predecessors — these problems we struggle to answer have occupied the minds of bright and diligent people for quite some time and they’ve done good work and developed meaningful methods for attending to them.

    Unfortunately, I see a fair amount of faddism that professors tolerate (even encourage) at the expense of the fundamentals I mentioned above. The best example that I can give off the top of my head is an op ed I read in pravda (I mean the nytimes). Ross Douthat, who as best I can tell is considered a pretty darn good thinker, discusses the international events of today in light of popular political science theories (here’s the example that I’m thinking of: Yet, his analysis is not as carefully considered as one might hope — the problems to the international order presented by WMDs in the hands of threat-states are not considered but are crucially important to a full analysis. An A+ writing might also have considered what I’ll call the “lilliputian threat” (after Jonathan Swift’s story), meaning that non-western nations do not need to compete with the west only derail it so they’re the defacto option. I’m only claiming that these should be discussed in a full analysis, not claiming a particular resolution. The writing, which fails the circumspect test, would get a B+ from the stingiest of professors, I think, and probably an A from most.

    • Posted before I wrote my conclusion, which is as follows:

      My point is that it’s hard for an employer to assess from grades whether a student has learned to be circumspect or that student has just learned how to spit back faddish arguments and ideas (with decent writing) that the professor will lazily give an A. Certain majors, on the other hand, signal some seriousness about working and dedication to preparing oneself for the working world. That may be the best an employer can do from a college transcript. I believe a good interviewer can probe deeper and students who have learned to be circumspect (and the associated tools) will be able to get that across (at least to some lucky employer). But there are screening problems (HR gets a lot of applications and has to pare down); at the screening point, choice of major may be de facto relevant.

  2. Leftfoot – you raise some good points. A college education which fails to educate is an expensive waste of four years. And to the extent that some majors are more likely to fail to educate than others, that could be a reasonable thing for employers to look at.

    That said, the article(s) I’m criticizing aren’t making that argument. They’re arguing that you should choose a major based on the specific job relevant skills that it will teach you. A better approach is to choose a major that’s interesting to you, perhaps with the caveat that you should look at the reputation for that major on your particular campus to make sure its not a gut (and also individual classes). Because while certainly there are some polisci classes that are useless, the best critical thinking class I took was out of the polisci department.

    I think that you and I are on the same page about the purpose of a college education as evidenced by your first paragraph where you define what college is about in your mind. That purpose is, unfortunately, a far cry from what the media would have you believe the purpose of a college education is.

    • And by leftfoot I mean bluefoot… I should proofread…

    • While I am not an ER nurse, I am a registered nurse in Colorado who rnecetly graduated from nursing school. In order to be an ER nurse, you only have to be a registered nurse (RN). Depending on the state you live in, there are two ways to get your RN. You can go to a 2-year college, like a community college and get your RN, or you can go to a 4-year university to get your RN. You do not have to get a separate degree in children. The starting pay for a nurse is also dependent on where you live. In Colorado, a new graduate nurse makes between $21 and $23 per hour, and usually works 12 hour shifts, three days per week. There are also other certifications to consider getting before becoming an ER nurse. These include ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support), PALS (Pediatric Advanced Life Support) and TNCC (Trauma Nursing Core Course). All of this will make more sense once you are in nursing school. I think it best to try to find a mentor at your local hospital who is an ER nurse and get advice from them. Good luck!!!

    • I’m originally from Dublin but now live in Edinburgh I don’t think that was a sqriut but it was great watching that bbc flailing away on that ass especially with her pussy all opened up.Lose the rubber man,you left it in her ass!!!!

    • I heartily coemnmd you for this encouragement. I am so tired of the hatred and conflict that has arisen ever since Obama was first elected in 2008. What you have suggested is a recipe that should help all of us to get through these tough times if we will try it. Through publishing these suggestions and this video, you have raised yourself up a notch in my book, and it is a breath of fresh air compared to many of the other publications that I read.

    • Would this sort of mixture be at all similar to something one might use on a regular natural clay/strawbale wall? I'm just trying to wrap my head around the changes that you are making to plaster drywall as opposed to doing a finish coat for strawbale.Thanks – this part of the process is really new to me, so forgive me if I as silly questions.Milt

  3. Oh, I completely agree with your point. The media sucks, and sends terrible messages all the time on all sorts of topics, and particularly intellectual ones. One of my favorite encapsulations of the sorry state of our media is a Chelsea Clinton quote, “[g]rowing up, my parents were as careful with my media diet as they were with what breakfast cereal I was allowed to eat.”

  4. The next question is: if you’re advising students on what classes to take (given our agreement on the goals for education) how SHOULD students determine what classes will be helpful. Its not about ‘practical skills for employability’, but as you note, some classes are pretty useless for educating yourself. What tips could we give 18 year olds to help them?

    • I’m going to have to noodle on that one for a bit. It’s a good question. It’s answered, at least partly, by the college’s core/distribution requirements.

      My first-cut at it: don’t be a philistine, whatever classes you take, it’s on you to get the most from them intellectually (by paying attention history of field, methods); take at least a few classes that double-count, meaning you’re interested in them and they also signal an employer that you’ve given thought to your future — many college students are adrift; try to learn basic methods used by a few different disciplines — in social-science/sciences, it’s statistics and modeling, in natural sciences, it’s the scientific method (writing lab reports, designing experiments), in humanities, it’s intellectual-history/canonical-works, rhetoric, and critical thinking/analysis, in performing arts, it’s about how master teachers instruct skill-cultivation and how to observe/analyze your own and other’s techniques, in the fine arts, I’m too clueless to say anything useful (probably something about technique/expression with that technique… you hear stuff like, Vermeer was a master of using light), in math/cs it’s proofs/algorithm-analysis, don’t know on engineering, always seemed pretty vocational to me, probably has to do with mastering problem-definition, enumerating and considering potential solutions, and accessing libraries of solutions to similar problems; lastly, I would tell a friend to try to take only a few fad classes, if any, (titles are usually editorial in some way or classes very focused on current events, unless they’re current-research type classes).

    • I would add to what I wrote yesterday the advice, “if you can’t explain, you don’t know it.” One of the best experiences of my higher education was studying with my classmates and tutoring others.

      From time to time, I like to watch videos of lectures on a topic that interests me. One lecture that left an impression on me was the first lecture of a course taught by Brad DeLong at Berkeley. (I’m pretty sure, but not positive, that the course was economic history). In the first lecture, Prof. DeLong said “you are at a school supported by the taxpayers of this state because they believe public good will come from your education. Thus, you have a duty to work in this class and carry with you the material in a way that will benefit the public.” (I’m quoting from memory so it’s probably slightly different). I think that’s good advice to young students; maybe the case is strongest at a public institution but there’s a moral case to be made to every students who gains from a higher education. I would give the advice: support those of humble means so they do not abandon study, try to do work that benefits the poor and learn from their wisdom too.

      • lol the music major info is pretty off. As one I can aetstt the schedule is more like 8:00am-6:00 classes 6:00-7:59am homework, performances, non music classes and practice. its a bitch. I wish I went to class at ten

      • Joey, these photos are fiasattnc! We had so much fun that day, and I’m so happy that there are so many photos of us laughing together! We will definitely be framing the remake of the This Years Model cover: LOVE THAT. Thank you so much! And thanks for your sweet comment, Natasha unseriousness could easily be our motto

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