How do you get a Philosopher off your porch? You pay for the pizza.
I learnt this joke early in my University education and it has become one of my icebreakers. As most arts or humanities students can relate, you’re often questioned on what you’re going to do with your education. The fact of the matter is most university students will not land jobs in their discipline. Rather, you’re degree represents a collection of essential skills, such as critical thinking, time management, cultural sensitivity, written and oral fluency etc…
If you watch the news enough, you will also hear about ‘skilled trades’ shortages. These also require higher education and provide students with essential and employable skills. Since this is a more direct route to the end goal of employment, what value does a university degree hold above technical or trade diplomas? While I think these programs offer much of the same essential skills as a traditional university education, I think it deviates in several essential ways.
The first big quality is self-directed learning. Now this would not stand for all university programs, but at least when I was in University as an arts/humanities student, there was an expectation of some self-directed study. Most courses required independent research, which often made up the bulk of the grade for the course. Professors were available for help, but most work occurred outside of class hours, so it was upon the student to find resources or make time to attend office hours for additional help from the professor.
Cognitive dissonance is another quality that I think is more present in “Academia”. The very nature of research and experimentation requires one to ‘prove’ your own hypothesis is wrong.
It could be argued that technical and trade schools do offer these opportunity too. And I don’t doubt that they do! However, in a traditional university program the skills that are taught are generalized and cemented so that they can be applied broadly in a wide variety of contexts, rather than a specific field. This ultimately is where the value is–flexibility.
My icebreaker has come in handy over the years. While I may not have a diploma in a technical field (and I work in a technical field), my atypical education sets me apart. I can troubleshoot with the best of them, while making jokes about Hume or Rousseau that no one will understand.