April 09, 2007

Role Reversal: Students Propose Ways of Enhancing College Educations

In an effort to keep up with the changing times the University of Southern California has created something called the Dean's Prize. It began five years ago as an opportunity for USC students to suggest new, innovative ways of enriching their college experience "[the] proposal may cover any aspect of your academic experience – think seriously about learning, be creative and daring, and inspire us." Their ultimate goal is perfection and currently USC's Marshall School of Business has a competitive curriculum and a ranking to match. Even though its undergraduate program is rated 21st in the nation, they are constantly looking for ways to improve. As the university established in their 2004 strategic plan, the changes that occur need not be solely for those attending USC, the suggestions should "make even greater contributions to the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit." A more relevant and challenging curriculum means a better informed graduating class, and hence a more educated public. USC is "striv[ing]... for excellence in teaching knowledge and skills to our students, while at the same time helping them to acquire wisdom and insight, love of truth and beauty, moral discernment, understanding of self, and respect and appreciation for others."

Experience is the best teacher. Whether in business or any other area of life, true understanding comes from personal experience. I propose that a new requirement be introduced into the general curriculum at Marshall Business School. Requiring internship experience, as opposed to only allowing it for credit, will encourage alumni to offer opportunities to current students broadening the alumni network through a forced exchange. It would also push students to examine their chosen field and future career choices. With hands on work experience students will be building their resumes while in school while those companies that choose to offer internships will benefit from some of the brightest minds in the country and their fresh ideas. Many of the top business schools and universities across the country have already implemented similar practices. Northeastern was recently ranked 26th in BusinessWeek for undergraduate business programs and first in internships: "Students gave the College of Business Administration an A+ rating for job placement citing the tremendous value of its cooperative education (co-op) program." Among the many institutions in Massachusetts only MIT and Boston College were ranked higher. This is mostly because of what Northeastern is calling the Co-op program, which entails an alternating schedule of academic study "with periods of employment in positions related to [the student's] academic, career, or personal interests. The combination of academic study and work produces an overall learning experience that gives greater meaning to [students'] studies and more direction to [his or her] career development." Northeastern is just one of many attempting to enhance learning through employment. The National Commission for Cooperative Education (NCCE) is dedicated solely to this purpose. Established in 1962 it has made great strides in implementing such programs throughout the United States as a way of creating educational benefits as well as increasing productivity in the U.S. economy. The students involved would be required to begin employment their junior year and continue through till graduation. Hopefully leading up to permanent employment and increasing the amount of educated employees in the economy.

The University of Southern California prides itself on the quality of its faculty, students, and alumni. What sets it apart from other private universities is so much more than academic admission standards. The type of student who is accepted and attends USC is not just “book smart,” there is a level of social maturity and absolute persistence. They are the well-rounded applicants who are not just brilliant with high SAT scores, but these potential students also have personality. A balanced student eventually becomes a balanced business person; someone able to work hard when needed but also capable of interacting with co-workers and superiors. Continuing with the Tommy Trojan characteristics (pictured above to the right) a USC graduate should leave with the skills to be successful in life after college. While others are buried in books, USC students could be out learning valuable life lessons and making life long connections applicable to their future careers through a co-op program.

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