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Quality of Education in the US

  1. Mar 14, 2016 #1
    Having graduated from university 4 years ago (B.S. Aeronautical Engineering) and currently working in industry for the last 2 years, Ive noticed a startling number of engineering graduates who don't have basic skills one would think an engineering graduate would have acquired during their studies. I know many engineers who cant program to save their life, who barely got by with C's, or who got B's but cant remember anything from their classes, and many college grads who write at the middle school level. It is startling. Basically, I from what I see from day to day it seems like we have more people who have a degree but not an education. I do have to wonder if making education accessible to everyone (in the US this is through the federal loan system but hopefully that will change) also results in a lower quality education for all. Ive only been out of the educational system for 4 years and I notice a difference in the average student, what do you guys think (especially those who've been around the block longer than me :) )?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 14, 2016 #2


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    Well, the example you gave is a little odd; programming isn't a core engineering skill for the mechanical type disciplines, so I wouldn't expect most engineers to be able to program.

    I think I took a brush past fortran and that was it....though I took Basic in high school.

    Writing, though, I agree.

    [Edit] I'm 40, btw, and much older than me, many can't use a spreadsheet very well.
  4. Mar 14, 2016 #3
    I think given how ubiquitous computers have become every engineer should have a basic level of programming skills. When an engineering student cant figure out how to program an excel spreadsheet or do some basic calculations in matlab, what did they do for their homework when they had to graph solutions or solve big problems?
  5. Mar 14, 2016 #4


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    Now that you mention it, I dd do some matlab programming too. I wouldn't call graphing in excel "programming", but it is worthwhile to be able to use/manipulate macros.

    A lot depends on the specific field; I don't have matlab on my computer and about the only people in my company who use macros are two other guys, me and a couple others I force to.
  6. Mar 14, 2016 #5


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    This also might contribute to another issue; the cost of hiring a new employee goes up while the company waits for them to get up to speed. I'm not claiming a direct cause-and-effect here, but I think it's important to consider how education might be making it more difficult for businesses to hire new people, which is something we definitely don't want right now.
  7. Mar 15, 2016 #6


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    I think it's fairly common for every generation to look at the one before and shake their collective heads. To an extent I suspect there a systematic bias at play in one's observations though.

    When looking at the generation that came before you, particularly growing up (when you have the most interaction with them), you're subject to the influence of teachers, professors, coaches, etc. - people who (i) you interact with on grounds where they are the experts and are usually pretty good at what they do, and (ii) have a vested interest in getting you to improve your performance and so are going to issue critical (and hopefully constructive) feedback.

    When looking at your peers, there may be a tendency to pay more attention to those who are better than you. This is how you learn, and often how you figure out pecking orders. There isn't as much need to look at those who are worse than you because you don't need to figure out any strategies to compete with them.

    Looking at the generation that comes after you, however is a different story. To this generation you're often in some kind of a mentor position or leadership position. As a leader it becomes more necessary to identify the weak links in your team because they can compromise whatever it is your team is trying to accomplish. As a mentor, it's your job to correct their mistakes, and help them improve. And as you get older, you're also exposed to a growing sample size of the younger population.

    Now get off my lawn!
  8. Mar 15, 2016 #7


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    I find that interesting, because I would think that engineers in general, and mechanical engineers in particular, are pretty heavy users of computers, especially in areas like robotics or simulations, etc., so there may be more of a focus on learning to program. One of my first jobs as a statistician out of grad school was for an engineering firm (a spinoff from one of the research labs in the Mechanical Engineering department at my alma mater), and the engineers who worked there (primarily mechanical and electrical) were all able to program and did it fairly frequently.

    Perhaps this may be dependent on the job and the particular industry involved?
  9. Mar 20, 2016 #8
    No doubt that reading and writing are huge problems right now. I can't attest to what it's like in universities and the workforce since I'm not there yet, but in the public K-12 school system kids simply aren't being taught to write well enough. I can remember kids in my 6th grade class struggling with three-syllable words, middle schoolers pausing between words when reading aloud, and all kinds of other examples of how the schools in the US are failing miserably. (And I live in a fairly good school district in a middle-class suburb, so I imagine it's even worse elsewhere.)

    I think part of the problem is that even though you learn much of your writing ability through reading, schools don't necessarily focus on that as a part of their curriculums. Lower-grade English, at least at my school, was mostly either listening to the teacher read something to the whole class or reading passages in groups. The problem with that is, none of the lesson hinges on the individual student's ability to read the material. You didn't actually have to read or write anything yourself. If schools would put books in every kid's hands from 1st grade to senior year, this probably wouldn't even be an issue.

    Unfortunately, the US school system as it is can never work well, and I doubt this issue will ever really be resolved as long as schools keep their current structure. We can trace most of these problems back to the teachers' unions, but that's a topic for a different discussion.
  10. Mar 20, 2016 #9

    Andy Resnick

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    I think you may have set the record for the shortest amount of time needed to turn into a crusty old person. :) Seriously, your comment is the only constant in all of educational history.
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