‘Degrees for What Jobs?’ Wrong Question, Wrong Answers
by Carol Geary Schneider, The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 1, 2011
The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices released a report recently calling for colleges, universities, and policymakers to “give priority to degree programs that are tied directly to labor-market needs and business investment.” There are several problems with this recommendation and the analysis of the overall aims of education provided in the report, according to Carol Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). She notes that the authors of the report ignore some fundamental purposes of college in our society and don’t seem to be listening carefully “to what employers say about college learning.”
Schneider points out that recent studies indicate that students with a strong liberal education graduate with higher levels of skills in precisely the areas that employers want—things like “inquiry and analysis; critical thinking; integrative thinking; and written and oral communication.” She notes further that “Because business leaders prize these capacities above all others, the research indicates that narrowly focusing degree programs will limit graduates’ economic opportunities rather than expand them.” What employers are looking for, she says, is workers who have a broad knowledge base and critical-thinking skills to supplement their career-specific skills. Maybe that’s why some Asian countries are retooling their general education programs to be more like traditional American models. “Smart business leaders see what Asian leaders see,” Schneider says. “They recognize that innovation requires employees to engage in continuous learning across new fields of employment.”
President Schneider also notes with dismay the NGA report’s complete erasure of the role college plays in preparing students for effective citizenship. She notes that, “This country owes its greatness to [a] rich mix of liberal and practical education, leavened with a strong recognition that education's first duty is to democracy.”
The entire commentary can be read online.