New article in New York Times deals with issues of the current changes in our educational system, but ultimately fails to address the most essential question: are we in the business of career training or are we trying to provide comprehensive education?
Students don’t want to major in philosophy or classics, therefore those majors must be eliminated. Students want to study business, therefore more business courses must be introduced. This is the basic logic. Consumers are investing money, they want definite returns, therefore university must be run like a business and administrators are its corporate managers. Students don’t like math, but they need it for business courses, therefore we are keeping math requirements. But what if students didn’t want to take Calculus or English or History or Sociology or Psychology? Why not just send them to a career training college where they will learn only about their speciality? Well, that’s not cool – we must keep up the pretense of liberal education and so on.
“We want to teach them how to make an argument, how to defend an argument, to make a choice.” These are the skills that liberal arts colleges in particular have prided themselves on teaching. But these colleges also say they have the hardest time explaining the link between what they teach and the kind of job and salary a student can expect on the other end.
Do you know why? Because there isn’t any link. In fact, if you want to be good at business, you might do better if you became an apprentice and didn’t go to college at all.
Strangely enough, it seems that employers don’t want students that are too specialized, so where does this model come from? Students themselves? Their parents? Culture? It’s clear that employers wouldn’t want a narrow specialist because s/he would be more difficult to replace – the more non-specialist (“creative”) the worker is, the easier it is to replace her/him with another equally non-specialist worker. Is there a hidden struggle here between the future workforce that wants to be more specialized (and therefore more in control of their own employment) and the future employers who want nothing of the sort?
My favorite part of the article, you ask? – There are no professors interviewed (unless I missed it), none, zilch. University = Administrators (provosts, presidents, deans etc etc), despite the fact that in this new corporate university administrators are actually the people who are most likely to move on to a different school in the next 3-5 years, while the faculty stays there and has to deal with, for example, cancelled majors or reorganized curriculum.