Obsolete Curriculum Harming Students

Higher education is in peril.

Public universities (such as the one I went to) are cutting courses, degrees, faculty and even athletic programs to make up for shrinking state budgets. Even still, tuition continues to rise. Bottom line is there’s a lot to complain about on the college scene.

In these unsavory times, students tend to forget the important questions: Is my school preparing me for a career? Is curriculum evolving at the speed of the real world? How confident can I be that my degree will result in a job?

Jacob Bohrod is the arts and entertainment editor at the The Reporter, the student newspaper of Minnesota State University, Mankato. I’ve never met Jacob, but he absolutely skewered the same mass communications program from which I earned a minor in news and editorial writing. I keep in touch with certain faculty members, but a few have since retired or moved on from the school. Bohrod writes about something I observed as far back as 2005, namely a complacency among faculty that’s alarming considering the expectation of higher education. (To prepare students to work in a field.)

Please read Jacob’s brilliant piece, “An Open Letter to the Department of Mass Communications“:

With all due thanks and appreciation, allow me to speak freely and frankly. My name is Jake. I’m a senior at Minnesota State, intending on graduating in a few short months. I started here in 2006, and since then I have watched the world turn while the mass communications department dug in its heels, apparently watching too.

The culture of communication is rapidly restructuring. Clever people far away are deciding the current and future ways in which we communicate, and those ways are as different from what they were 20 years ago as those were from the Middle Ages. This we know; this is no longer surprising; this is no longer upsetting; this comes too from your mouth.

Where my disappointment (and many times it’s not even that — many times it’s anger) comes from is the department’s utter refusal to react to these changes in any significant way. Where it comes from is the increasingly undeniable fact that I will graduate from a four-year program without what is now the basic skillset demanded of professionals in my field.

I, as a senior on the cusp of graduation, should not be guessing how to do the necessary functions of my job.

The sentiment of which I speak is one that hangs on the air throughout the department. It’s  palpable. The mass comm. students’ building realization that they are only getting half of an education, that a massive gap in content marks their degree and that at the far end of that gap drops a cliff, is in every department classroom.

This gap, I acknowledge, is hardly unknown to you. And this is the most agitating fact of all. The media world is a two-sided one. On the one side we have the product: the news story, the interview, good writing structure, punctuation, grammar and the like. On the other we have the outlet, the means of dissemination: what used to be just the newspaper, the magazine, what have you, has become the blog, the micro-blog, the video, the podcast.

It is your job — and, yes, at this point I must literally spell out your job — to impart to students the two halves. What is one without the other? I have something to say but am in the dark as to how to say it! A comprehensive education means it need not necessarily be supplemented by information and skills out of its bounds. My education needs heavy supplementation.

To little avail you’re playing catch-up: a class here on multimedia applications, a class there on audio construction. A university should not be catching up, it should be looking forward. Students and faculty alike should be so bored with Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere that we are discovering and learning the next thing.

Fluency in the language of the digital age should not be considered extra any longer. Employers do not view that language as extra, and haven’t for years. It should not be up to the student to teach herself the language of her field; what is college for if she did? That language is an integral part of the profession and thus must be integrated into every aspect of its teaching.

The students suffer at the hands of your inactivity. It is them who dump thousands of dollars into a system that leaves them stammering, with little to show for it. It is them who spend years of their lives jumping through the same hoops they did upon entry into the major. It is them who feel dissatisfied, disillusioned and cheated, and who must begrudgingly and unjustly seek further education simply to see some semblance of a result.

I refuse to believe budgetary concerns — your primary sob story of an excuse — hold any pertinence to this fundamental problem. It costs no more money to teach crime beat reporting than it does Internet beat reporting.

This issue must be addressed. If your faculty refuses or is unable to teach what its students must know, it’s time for an evolution. If you are too grounded, too proud, too whatever to offer the best media education you can, then it will be hard for this alumnus to disagree when another round of departmental cuts come around.

With that, I would like to thank you for rendering in me the ability to write this letter, but I filled in the other half myself.

My experience was similar to Bohrod’s and I was a student before Twitter arrived or Facebook was considered a serious tool for journalists. Much of what I learned about mass communications came from working at the student newspaper, and that should not have been the case. At a time when student’s are paying more than ever to go to school, the quality of their education seems to be suffering. Blanket statement, perhaps, but a degree no longer holds the same promise of prosperity. In fact, a degree may be nothing more than a receipt for a staggering student debt.

But, I still believe in college. I believe Jacob will find a job after he graduates. I believe I would enroll in my alma mater again, tomorrow, if given the chance. I would bypass the English program and major in mass communications and hope my professors had or were in the process of learning new curriculum so I, as a student, could say my time and hard work was worth it.

Jacob criticizes because he cares. Students still care. There’s plenty of reasons not to. (Can I get a witness from the jobless Class of 2010?) Higher education is experience tumult like we’ve never seen before. But even while colleges continue cutting left and right just to get into the black, the reason I still have faith in college is students like Jacob, who challenge the system and demand better. Education still matters. To students.

As for tenured 60-something bumps happy to teach 1998’s curriculum? You’re robbing college students. Robbing them. Taking money from their pocket and sending them blindly on their way. You are a failure to higher education.