Higher Education?

 

American higher education has remade itself into a vast job-training program.

-Diane Ravitch

 

While training students for careers is a departure from the traditional view of higher education as educator rather than trainer, there is something to be said for arming students with the tools necessary to succeed in their intended careers – especially in this economy. In his recent book, Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money And Failing Our Kids – And What We Can Do About It, Professor Andrew Hacker argues that colleges and universities are failing by not putting the students first. He opined in a recent NPR interview that we must make math, science, language, reading and foreign language the top five priorities at all levels of education – placing the importance of a liberal arts education well above the need for real world skills.

Although Mr. Hacker appears to argue against training and for education as the responsibility of higher education, it is clear to me that his argument for a graduate’s capacity to perform fundamental mathematics and to read and communicate effectively is really in support of a graduate’s capacity to be marketable and contribute to society.  So I cannot disagree.  On the other hand, what about other marketable, usable skills as a means of also putting students first? Why are we not putting students first by teaching them skills that will propel them into a career? As an educator, I sincerely understand the necessity of improved education in mathematics, science, etc. – knoweldge that you can build upon for the future. However, students also need to meet employers’ expectations for an ability to contribute upon entry into the workplace .

Consider this. Thousands of students spend upwards of $40,000 per year on tuition at traditional universities but end up with jobs paying far less than that once they graduate. To top it off, many of these jobs are not even within their fields of study. Is this fair? No, but it is a reality. On the other hand, students at private sector institutions generally pay a less in tuition and graduate with hands-on experience in a field. These students have marketable skills and can step into their jobs on day one, fully trained.

Education should enable the student and enrich society.  Both traditional schools and private sector ones have a place – and both have a responsibility.

 

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