Phillip Ensler: Learning in practice, not theory

Why are we here?

For many students, it’s because college is our link between childhood and the real world. We go to college to receive an education to prepare us for the life and career we desire.

GW, and particularly the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, needs to re-evaluate how the school currently structures undergraduate degree programs.

To be more in sync with the evolving economy and society in which we will work, CCAS should embrace a specialized education model that mimics graduate school programs in which a higher emphasis is placed on one’s chosen academic discipline. Under the current model – and even more so under the reduced General Curriculum Requirements starting with next year’s freshman class – students take too many classes that are unrelated to their major. Majors should be structured to require classes that are not just tangentially related to a student’s discipline, but rather, are pertinent to it.

Let me explain: I am majoring in political science because I intend to serve in the arena of public affairs. Many of my fellow political science majors have similar goals of going into public policy and working in government.

But the current required classes for political science majors do not sufficiently include classes that are significant in the realm of politics, such as those focusing on health care policy, property issues and taxation. Too few of our required classes actually teach us about the intricacies of these issues.

The study of politics differs slightly from the study of public policy, but the reality is that political science majors spend too much time learning abstract theories and analyzing models of government, and not enough time taking the classes that will help us with our future careers. Requiring political science students to take classes on taxation and finance, and even some general business classes, would provide us with a more comprehensive understanding of the issues we will address.

This disconnect between CCAS requirements and what those majors actually translate to in the real world can also be seen among pre-med students. Many students who want to go to medical school major in chemistry or biology. As future doctors and health care personnel, they will inevitably be confronted with a slew of governmental regulations and health insurance policies. Some pre-med students take a political science class or two to satisfy a GCR, but their major does not require them to take classes on health care policy that would surely inform them of the business and political factors their job entails.

Anthony Carnevale of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce co-authored a study that highlighted the disparity between what colleges teach students and what skills are required in many professions. It states: “The United States is unable to help people match their educational preparation with their career ambitions – not because it cannot be done but because it simply is not being done.”

GW should respond to this disparity by ensuring that classes offer skills that are applicable to the workforce.

It is time CCAS rethinks the conventional wisdom behind majors and restructures them in a way that is more conducive to getting a job. As a leading university, GW should lead the way in transforming a liberal arts education into something that will provide the greatest value to students and have them walk away with more then just a diploma. GW has an extraordinary track record of producing the best and the brightest leaders of tomorrow. I hope the administration is willing to adapt to continue such a legacy.

Phillip Ensler, a junior majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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