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Higher Education Should Be More than Vocational Training

By Andrew Wilk, The News-Gazette (East Central Illinois), May 5, 2013

The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act, a proposed bill that has been met with rare bipartisan support, sets out to create a database of college costs and financial aid packages, graduation and remediation rates, and the majors, debt loads, and starting salaries of those colleges’ graduates. The intent of the bill, according to its sponsors, is to allow students to make more informed choices about their education, but it also raises questions about the fundamental purpose of higher education, Andrew Wilk says. “Will this [legislation],” he asks, “convert more of our nation's colleges and universities into vocational programs in all but name because all those learning experiences that we traditionally associate with higher education will get stripped away by a single-minded pursuit of the best outcome as measured solely by a paycheck?”

Wilk stresses that students have the right to expect better employment prospects as a result of their college education, and in fact he supports the legislation. But students shouldn’t feel they must choose the practical over the artistic for financial security. The modern economy demands a broad range of skills, especially creativity and innovation. “We need artists to help us look at our world with a new set of eyes,” Wilk says, “and we also need all the poetry and Shakespeare we can jam into our colleges and universities because preparing for a career at school is not only about learning a set of vocational skills.”

Studying a broad range of arts and sciences is not only personally enriching—it’s the source of the sort of practical creativity required of workers and citizens in a dynamic economy and a participatory democracy. “In our zeal to apply market-based discipline to our system of higher education, [we may] be heading down a path that, a few years hence, we will realize has produced a society less socially mobile, citizens more intellectually narrow, and a workforce less able to be flexible within a world economy that will be increasingly about nothing other than rapid change.”

Read the full article at the News-Gazette. AAC&U has conducted its own surveys about what skills employers are looking for in recent graduates; the results of those surveys, including the report from the most recent survey, It Takes More than a Major, are available at AAC&U’s Public Opinion Research page.


The articles featured in AAC&U News Perspectives do not necessarily represent the views of AAC&U staff, its board of directors, or its membership. In order to help members stay informed about media coverage and opinions on liberal education, AAC&U also regularly features links to important articles on the Liberal Education News Watch page.