After two months of attending business classes at USC, I have concluded that the curricula and teaching style here is vastly different from those at my business school in the Netherlands. I like some aspects of my classes, but some other things really get under my skin.
A noticeable difference in teaching style here compared to back home is that many business classes have multiple small assignments rather than one large one. My American friends tell me that these many small deadlines keep them disciplined and focused on the class. At many western European universities, lectures are not mandatory and the grades for many classes will depend on one large exam, assignment or presentation at the end of the semester. This approach is supposed to teach students the self-discipline they will need when starting a career. I am a big proponent of this system because I believe that one of the most important things to learn at university is how to be intrinsically motivated. It teaches you to be responsible without external pressure from professors who ask you to, “Please hand in your homework and do all the readings please because there might be a pop quiz.”
To me, due to certain rules in my classes, studying at USC sometimes feels like an extension of high school. One of my classes in Marshall has a very strict “no electronic devices” policy to ensure that students will not be distracted. This annoys me because I like to take notes on my laptop, and we live in a day and age where this is increasingly the norm. I also believe that it should be my own responsibility to pay attention during class. If I can still pass my exams even if I occasionally check Facebook, and I am not distracting anybody else by doing so, then why does it concern my lecturer? I do not believe that treating young adults like children is constructive to their development.
Another thing I am critical of is giving credit for participation. I am hesitant to assume that participation is necessarily a reflection of intelligence or understanding, rather than one of effort. Though putting effort into a subject is great and necessary, I do not think that as much importance should be placed on whether a student contributes much in class versus how well they demonstrate their knowledge on an exam or in an assignment. In-class discussions can be constructive, but in one of my classes (in which 25 percent of the grade is based on participation) people seem to be talking for the sake of talking and not adding very much to the conversation. From my European perspective, a system heavily based on participation could backfire, and allow students who are not necessarily intelligent or skillful to still receive high grades and diminish the value of the degree.
Now I want to give some serious credit to the things about studying at USC that I do like compared to studying in Rotterdam. So far, all of my lecturers have been extremely clear about what class material will be tested on the exam. They explain what is most important through the use of study guides. Back home, lecturers sometimes just prescribe an entire textbook that was not even fully covered in class, and then ask questions about material that I swear I have never seen. Professors are never vague about testable material in my USC classes, and it saves me a lot of stress and confusion.
Another thing I love about classes at Marshall (and music industry classes at Thornton) is that there is a clear emphasis on thoughtful writing, presenting and teamwork — skills that are necessary in order to build a successful business career. The Rotterdam School of Management is also very strong in this area, but that’s certainly not reflective of other Dutch business schools.
The classes I am taking all focus on their practical applications in specific industries rather than on academic research. I find practical advice from guest speakers and lecturers who are extremely knowledgeable about their own industry to be the main asset of my USC classes. Classes at my home university tend to sometimes require students to remember specific theoretical frameworks and research that is not always useful in the real world. Finally, I really appreciate the individual attention that I am receiving from my lecturers.
My ultimate viewpoint is this: while teamwork and presentation skills are important to succeed in life, intrinsic motivation and time-management are equally valuable. Not every boss will give you detailed instructions and frequent small deadlines. It pays off to be the kind of person with the initiative and organizational skills to independently build large projects in the long term. This is what the Erasmus University of Rotterdam taught me. So even though my classes at USC are extremely interesting and useful, I cannot help but feel that this educational system is designed to help many people to earn a business degree, regardless of intellect or initiative. If it does not necessarily take intelligence or intrinsic motivation to achieve a bachelor’s title, it makes me wonder about the actual educational value of a degree earned in the United States.