Time to rethink college

By Greg Stiles For the tidings

It may be time to re-examine the college experience, first-year Southern Oregon University President Linda Schott said Monday.

“Not just how we teach or learn or the tools we use, but how we conceptualize the very purpose of college and how learners engage with institutions,” Schott told a Chamber of Medford/Jackson County audience at Rogue Valley Country Club.

Commonly, college is thought of as a four-year venture for those between the ages of 18 and 24, preparing students for their careers.

“They come to our campus, they study, they graduate and they enter the workforce having learned everything they need to know to succeed in the future,” Schott said. “This vision of college, if it ever was a reality, is not reality any longer. Our so-called non-traditional students are now the majority. Very few graduate in four years and most work, usually in jobs totally unrelated to what they are studying.”

As a result, SOU is designing future programs in which students would work in fields allied with their studies to pay for their schooling. Schott also suggested post-graduate studies “where you loop back to the university whenever you need additional training.”

SOU staff have just begun exploring the possibilities, she said. At the same time, they’re asking whether a market exists for such an approach, how the courses would be delivered and what it would cost.

Schott said technology can improve communication between campus and workplace to better prepare students and their eventual bosses.

“We work hard to stay current, but it is difficult for faculty to stay current,” Schott said. “But it is difficult to keep up with the discrete skills and competencies you need in your workplace, because there is not always steady communication about those topics.”

Likewise, employers have trouble knowing exactly what students know when they enter the workforce. She said it might be clear in fields such as accounting or nursing, but not so clear when it comes to economics, history, sociology or philosophy.

“I’ve had people tell me, ‘Well, we know that at least a bachelor’s degree means that somebody can stick to it and get through a degree,” Schott said. “Isn’t an $80,000 to $100,000 bachelor’s degree kind of an expensive way to figure out that people have persistence?”

She said social media sites such as LinkedIn are being used to map backwards to see what kind of life experiences, work experiences and education made people successful. From there, conclusions are drawn about how to prepare students.

Aggregated data will show faculty members and students what specific skills and knowledge are required for certain jobs, Schott said. Instead of simple transcripts with courses and grades, students will have a list of competencies to share with employers.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

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