The Most Important Difference Between (Private) Colleges and Universities

I haven’t ever done a post like this, where I talk about and critique the education system in some way. Well I’m doing that now.

And just on a side note, I think it’s important to discuss and comment on the education system. Not only is it a fundamental system, but it is possibly the most important part of a person’s development.

Recently I have been studying for my TESL Ontario certification (for those of you who don’t know what the TESL is, it is a certification to be able to teach English as a second language). In the second semester of my course, we’ve focused on many different aspects of teaching.

One of these aspects is linguistics.

This was interesting for me especially since I’ve studied linguistics before in my university career. A lot of the information we touched upon was information I had previously studied, so this was kind of a review for me.

Or so I thought.

I think what I learned from studying linguistics was the important difference in learning when it comes to a smaller and more tactile setting, like the one we see in private and public colleges, compared to learning in a bigger setting with a more theoretical and less practical approach, like the one you’d see in university.

So how does that affect what you’re learning?

University puts a focus on theory, teaching you mostly everything there is to know on a certain topic. A lot of this is to present ideas to students for them to critically challenge them. This is one of the great things about many programs at universities: students are given theories and are allowed to disagree with them, provided they are able to balance it with fact. It is a great skill to have.

But that’s also where the problem lies.

Looking back at my notes for my university linguistics class, a lot of the information given was not entirely needed and actually made the material a lot more confusing. That is essentially the thing with university education: the material you learn isn’t for a specific practical value, but rather for dissection and discussion. I wasn’t learning linguistics for a certain actionable purpose, or at least it didn’t feel that way.

Now before I keep going, a lot of programs are not like this. Some of them are practical.

Now comes the private college. I’ve been studying to get my TESL certification, and one part of the program is two separate linguistics modules: phonology and general linguistics (which actually includes a lot).

The module taught the same, or similar, information, but there was a huge difference: each module was taught for a specific purpose, and it was entirely transparent as to what I was to do with the information. When it came to phonology, it was to improve pronunciation for L2 learners. When it came to syntax and historical linguistics, it was for teachers to get a background knowledge when it comes to teaching. The teaching of these modules had a focus.

Now I realize that comparing an introduction course in university to a specialized course in private college isn’t the best comparison, but it is just to point out a similarity that I’ve experienced. The reality is that I, amongst other students, left university feeling as if they have no practical knowledge or actionable skills. A communications major can go into journalism, but the program didn’t make me a good journalist. A course on documentaries was to dissect it, not on how to become a documentarian.

The reason why I write this is because the stigma that colleges face has no real reason to exist. As much as we pretend there is a hierarchy in terms of post-secondary education, there really shouldn’t be. I, as a university graduate, am absolutely not smarter than a college graduate. As a matter of fact, the lack of experience that a college student might have received in a practicum, a placement or a co-op leaves them in a better direction than I am. Yet, with all this, those who go to colleges are unfairly looked down upon and are thought to be inferior.

At the end of the day, I just paid a lot for a piece of paper that tells me I learned a lot. However, I had to go to a private college to fill a void that my university truly couldn’t accomplish.

And that’s it! I’d love to hear your thoughts as to whether you agree or disagree with me, or even if you have any questions! Leave your thoughts in the comments below. 

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