It has been said that most application of what we learn in college does not gel for about two years education. For those students who worked while attending school the application takes place almost immediately. So, I’m a big fan of programs that allow students the opportunity to work and contribute in the real world as a part of their education. For graduate students, the opportunity to apply their knowledge and work on specific problems as part of their degree program has as much practical value as a thesis or dissertation, although I’m sure on the academic side there would be some disagreement.
Ironically, some professors have only been professors and stick to the academic program. It may come down to is the definition of education and training for a profession, and some schools are still thinking about what they want to be known for. However, I think every major should have a practicum where they work on projects like you describe.
For those of us who worked for many years and now teach I find we are regarded skeptically as teachers because we are prone to teach application of what is learned in the classroom as well. In theory, a good thing, but it takes extra class time. Naturally, real life scenarios are worked on class–but nothing beats the real thing. Depending on the environment, students vary in terms of willingness to step outside the box (ironically) of the learning institution while others jump at the chance to apply what they learn. Those who already work and go to school understand the difficulty of spreading themselves too thin, but others may only experience real time application after graduation. They should do it just for the exposure, networking, and mentoring possibilities, but some aren’t ready.