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Colleges should focus on more practical, less theory

By Mike Wilcox
I read a report a few days ago that lamented the decline in college enrollment in the state of Michigan, and the United States for that matter.
Here, Central Michigan University was down nearly 50 percent over the past decade. Western Michigan and other public colleges were down substantially as well. Only U of M, MSU and Michigan Tech had increased enrollments.
I have taken a lot of written abuse in the past about promoting trade schools over the traditional liberal arts colleges, but here I go again, and it seems that a good number of Michiganders agree with me.
The theoretical teaching you learn in college simply doesn’t compare to the practical courses taught at trade schools. Your bang for your buck appears to go a lot further at trade schools. The average student will pay between $10,000 and $15,000 a year at a public university. Trade schools cost about $5,000 a year.
After graduating from a fine liberal arts college way back when, I felt ill-prepared in the real world. I lacked the practical experience I probably would have had if I had attended a two-year technical school. I was fortunate to take a couple independent studies and found those very helpful, but the classroom work just didn’t help.
My son, a junior now at a public university, feels the same. He goes to college to get the degree, but as far as learning anything practical he says his studies are useless.
I’m sure some of this has to do with Covid and the fact that for two years he hasn’t been on campus. Then again, for all the dollars you pay for a bachelor’s degree, you should feel like you’re learning a great deal.
When he graduates with his B.A., like many, his particular field of study may be inundated with applicants. It will be difficult to find a decent job.
On the other hand those who go the trade school route usually have plenty of opportunities. It’s no secret that the trades need employees and those who graduate from a decent trade school are certain to find employment.
All said, I’m not advocating the demise of brick-and-mortar universities. They have been an important part of American culture since our existence. They teach us how to learn, and the social opportunities they provide are important for students out on their own for the first time.
I would, however, encourage college curriculum to provide more practicality. Did I mention enrollment in trade schools is up substantially? That should tell our higher education leaders it is time to offer more real-life work experiences versus their current curriculum.
A common quote attributed to several sources is “95 percent of drug dealers know more about running a business than college professors.” I believe there is substantial truth to that. Professors and students need to learn through practical experience.
Do that, as well as cap the outrageous cost of tuition, and just maybe we will see an uptick, instead of the current downward enrollment trend.

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