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University should encourage lifelong learning

As I’ve started to apply for summer internships, I’ve not only found the whole process of looking for a summer activity, along with searching for an idea of a career for the rest of my life, somewhat nerve-wracking. Of course everyone is afraid of commitment, but having to find a job that will last for the next fifty years or so until I retire seems a little too much to do. Given the changes in technology that will be coming over the next few decades, the job market is going to shift drastically every so often.

Then there’s the possibility of finding a new job in a new career after a period of time, but if we have spent the time and money to earn a degree after four years of college, we should expect to be able to find employment for the rest of our lives. The Hiatt Career Center and other resources are available to help people market themselves and find a job in their respective industries, but what if the jobs they’re qualified for just aren’t there anymore?

A simple example is that of the factory worker. Obviously no one gets a degree in car manufacturing, but those who started out working at a factory 20 years ago face the dilemma that their job won’t be there anymore sometime soon. With technologies that will make manual labor almost obsolete coming around the corner, folks have to be prepared to find completely new jobs.

While students going for business or science degrees aren’t faced with the same dilemma, it’s a simple fact of life that things will change over time. People always have to learn new skills to keep up with those changes, and all varieties of workers go to some sort of classes or seminars to learn about what is new out there. This process of re-education has been going on for a while, and is typically mandated and covered by the employer.

Yet when said employer loses profitability due to a major change in the business landscape, they don’t cover further re-education. If an industry loses most of its market share and a good portion of the labor force is left without a job, a lot of these people have to wind up looking for jobs in a completely new field. And this possibility can occur to almost any industry, save for maybe the STEM fields.

A college degree is only good for about 20 years until it, and the knowledge it bestows, becomes obsolete. While Brandeis is somewhat helpful at finding students a job, what it and other schools should do is offer students the opportunity to come back and learn a new field to prepare for a different career. This may sound like graduate school, and while the purpose of grad school basically covers my complaints, what I’m looking for is a bit of a complete rehaul of the secondary education system.

Grad school is completely voluntary, and usually only exists for those who wish to go deeper into a field of study. What should be offered, instead, is a chance at a second undergraduate degree. A fresh start. Colleges need to realize that students will be faced with problems later on down the road when ideas and business practices change, and to admit that upon matriculation, this degree will only be good for the next 20 or 25 years.

If schools can offer students the ability to reassess the job market, as well as their personal desires and skills, then a few decades down the road, people will be more productive. With most people retiring at 65 and people living healthy lives well past that, a good portion of the population is doing almost nothing. Retooling yourself at, say, age 50 with a new degree and updated knowledge can prepare someone to work well into their 70s, and make a very good wage doing so.

This process can also keep the country afloat with more people working at jobs that are more in tune with current demands. Instead of using Social Security to fund retirements, elderly people who are still working wouldn’t need to rely on that safety net, and in turn, would add something to the economy.

Brandeis already offers something to help this idea with BOLLI, the Brandeis-Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, where senior citizens in the area come to take classes and learn new ideas. But they aren’t doing this to prepare for a new career, the courses simply interest them. If the school could offer a distinct academic plan that allows students to complete four years as an undergrad after graduating high school and then allow those same students to return 20 or so years later to learn something completely different, it would be a lot more helpful than the current system. And the school could charge an increased price in tuition in the present day for the chance to return back to Brandeis later on to take more classes, instead of charging the super-inflated tuition rates that will inevitably be around 20 years in the future. Students would have the chance to invest even more in themselves and in the future by paying for classes 20 years ahead of time.

Or perhaps the school could offer each undergraduate the chance to take two or three courses of their choosing, whenever they want, simply by graduating. No need to charge extra. After all, as students, we’ve been told time and time again that “we’re Brandeisians for life.” The university should hold to that ideal and allow students to return and learn something new that would be an actual benefit instead of receiving an alumni newsletter every quarter.

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