Monday, April 21, 2014

Can College Students Plan Ahead?

Tom Friedman has been back talking with Google's hiring manager, Laszlo Bock. He had this to say about the potential value of college:
“My belief is not that one shouldn’t go to college,” said Bock. It is that among 18- to 22-year-olds — or people returning to school years later — “most don’t put enough thought into why they’re going, and what they want to get out of it.” . . . don’t just go to college because you think it is the right thing to do and that any bachelor’s degree will suffice. “The first and most important thing is to be explicit and willful in making the decisions about what you want to get out of this investment in your education.” It’s a huge investment of time, effort and money and people should think “incredibly hard about what they’re getting in return.”
I would file this under good advice that hardly anybody could actually use. How many 19-year-olds have enough notion of what they want in life to draw up such a plan? Or, if they do at 19, really stick with it? Or put a lot of effort into education that they end up not being able to use, like people who spend seven years getting a Ph.D. and then can't get a teaching job? And if you don't have such a plan, should you, like my two older sons, refuse to pursue any education because without clear goals you can't see the point? Many thousands of people drift through college but somehow end up in reasonable demanding and prestigious jobs. I suppose what Friedman is warning is that drifting into management has become thing of the past, but I wonder.

Bock puts a lot of emphasis on taking hard, technical classes, which is fine if you want to do technical things. But most jobs are not very technical; is there really any advantage for future managers and sales reps in studying programming?

Maybe Bock and Friedman are right and the old status hierarchy that put graduates of good colleges into management slots is crumbling. If so, the landscape for young people will only become more chaotic and harder to navigate, with more decisions to make and more places to falter or fall behind. Even more than now, the qualities that matter will be ambition, careerism, and a complete lack of curiosity about things that won't help you get ahead.


pootrsox said...

Part of what troubled me when I read that column this morning was the cavalier dismissal of any of the traditional humanities as having "rigor" or serious problem-solving processes.

Thomas said...

As someone in a technical feed, I am often astounded at the inability to communicate or read communications amongst many of my fellow nerds.

There is also a relative lack of empathy.

So even if we were thinking of education as being purely for the goal of making efficient workers in technical fields, there would be a lot of reason to want a broader education.

FWG said...

I had no idea what "the real world" was like at 19. And I was always considered mature for my age. I think Bock gives good advice, but it wasn't advice I was prepared to hear at 19...or possibly even at 29, which I am now. It was my experience that my cohort was told we had to go to college no matter what, and that your major wasn't as important as actually attending. We were told to pursue our dreams and to do what we love.