I've been working at PrintFellas for approximately a month now and I've been enjoying it a lot. I've been expanding my knowledge base in computer graphics, learning many tricks of the trade and time-saving techniques. I still feel slow, but I think I'm getting faster. Well...except when I'm trying out new tutorials at home. Then I'll follow the steps provided and try out 10 other things to see what would happen if I changed something. I've been learning more and more that layers are my friend and there's never such thing as too many layers.
Would I have learned more than what I left school with if I had focused solely on graphic design instead of graphic design and illustration? Undoubtedly, but illustration has been an ongoing pleasure (albeit a sometimes pain as well) that I wouldn't trade for anything. Also, I am not dependent on the computer alone to create my artwork. I love working on my colored pencil illustrations, even if I don't get as much time to work on them these days then when I was in school.
Should I have learned the majority of the things that I'm learning now while I was in school? Probably. One can argue that there are so many facets in trying to teach someone graphic design that teachers are required to pick and choose what to pass on to students in a 14-16 week period. First, training someone to have an eye/skill for good design, including what makes design good or bad. Second, typography and learning how to use it effectively to hone your design/message. Third, color and color theory: what meanings the correct hue, shade and tint/tone a color can bring to your design; anyone who says there's no more than 10 shades of blue (or any other color) has never designed before. Fourth, learning the medium that your designing: if it is web, understanding how RGB and web pages work/function; if it is print, then understanding how cmyk, printing processes, and types of paper interact with each other to create the finished product; if it's packaging, then understanding everything for print as well as how things are assembled three-dimensionally; if it's environmental graphics, then having an understanding of ALL three of the prior processes, since it is likely they all will be used on a job.
There is a fifth area of training that teachers must teach their students, the one that started this rant/postulation initially: teaching the students how to USE the design programs. The main problem with teaching the design programs is that there are students at every level of education when they start schooling, and unfortunately teachers have to go at the speed of the slowest student. In the lower level classes, the teachers must assume that you've never worked with the programs before. This frustrates students like me, familiar with the computer and with most of the basic workings of the program. To further compound the issue, the initial computer training classes are often taught by grad students and then the students learning are confined to the knowledge of the grad students, which may be limited. Granted, upper level classes, such as packaging design, expect you to have a working knowledge of all the programs necessary to complete your assignments, but students can make it to those classes without having learned the necessary skills. I went through half of my graphic design classes without learning something new from the teacher. Mind you, I only had 6, but I still took more graphic design classes then the MINIMUM needed to graduate with an emphasis in graphic design.
I don't have an answer to the problem of how to teach graphic design efficiently, but I will mention my most useful class. I took Magdy Rizk's Graphic Design Production class, and he spent at least half of all the classes on lectures, including technique/process demonstrations, showing samples of good design and what to look for, and showing us the printing processes and teaching about paper, ink, etc. He even took us to a printer to see the printing process in action. That class is the one I learned the most from in all my graphic design classes at CSUN.