Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Not A Big Surprise Here -- Colleges Don't Prepare Students for Jobs

by Daniel L. Bennett

A new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce indicates that the skills needed by the future labor force will not be met by what is currently being taught by colleges. The report's lead author, Anthony Carnevale, suggested that colleges be challenged "to be much more career-oriented than they have been and to overhaul the way they educate students, to much more closely align the curriculum with specific jobs," and that many "need to streamline their programs, so they emphasize employability."

I tend to agree that an academic education is not for everyone and that many people would be better served with a more career-oriented education, and have previously written on this issue. I don't think that most students would disagree. A recent survey of college freshman by HERI indicated that 2 of the top 3 reasons that college students go to college are to "get a better job" and to "increase their earning's power."

The likely controversy surrounding this idea of more vocationally-oriented education is that the liberal arts will be lost and forgotten, or only available to the elite class whose children are fortunate enough to get accepted to the most selective institutions. The fear is that this will lead to an aristocratic, caste-like society. The problem is that this is not far from our current reality. Look at the current concentration of power in the government and business - the Obama Administration is staffed primarily with Ivy League graduates, as is the Supreme Court and Wall Street.

We need an educated citizenry that has an understanding of history of our country, how our government and economy are organized, the ability to read, write and think critically, in order to sustain a functioning democracy and avoid tyranny. For this purpose, some elements of the liberal arts should be preserved in a new hybrid education of sorts that combines academic with practicality. Carnevale suggests that:
community colleges or state universities should [not] eliminate the liberal arts, but that they should counsel students to pick programs based on careers, track the success of various curriculums in preparing students for jobs, and adjust programs to assure that they are focused on jobs.

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