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Higher Education’s Focus Should Stay on the Workforce

Colleges and universities need to ensure their programming creates a clear track between graduation and employment. Photo by Uwe Hermann.

The college I am working for now is an institution that focuses on a specific niche rather than offering a broad range of programs and services that would appeal to a wide audience. I am very pleased to be working for this institution because it offers bachelor, master, and PhD opportunities to students who are non-traditional. By non-traditional, I am talking about students who are choosing to go to college while they have family responsibilities and jobs. The average age of our students is about 32 years old.

Our students either choose to return to school to complete a college degree or they choose to begin their college education because they are motivated to pursue a career change. This college very carefully keeps it eyes and ears on the job market and the workforce. The administration very carefully creates opportunities for the students that align with the workforce and opportunities for jobs. There are many colleges and universities that do not get this idea. They are still creating the image of the lofty white ivory towers. I feel so lucky to work there, especially in the center where I work. We are not part of the main campus and as a result we work very hard to build our programs through very active outreach and recruitment efforts. We are truly making higher education accessible to anyone who wants to work hard and pursue it.

Community colleges in the United States do a really good job aligning their programs of study with the needs of the workforce and the economy. The community college I graduated from and worked for, as an example, has 100 different associate degree and/or certificate programs all designed for the purpose of launching people’s careers or pathways to continued higher education. The only disadvantage to this alternative form of higher education is that community colleges can only offer an associate degree. However, the cost of education is very affordable because it is government funded.

In my opinion, higher education’s purpose should be and be only this—how to get an individual to his or her career. Several years ago I attended a retreat for faculty who created curriculum that opened opportunities for college students to apply what they were learning in the classroom with real world experience. They would take their real-world experience and bring back to the academic environment. I earned the title of faculty innovation curriculum specialist because I had won grants for the community college as a result of the curriculum that I wrote.

While I was at this retreat I was the only professor in attendance from a community college. Everyone else who was there represented the fancier 4-year private and/or public colleges and universities. The discussion at the dinner table focused on core curriculum, at their schools. I heard lots of discussion about humanities, philosophy, and fancy electives that bring lots of satisfaction to the joy of learning but not practical in terms of career pursuit.

I asked the question, “I am hearing a lot of conversation about core curriculum, but I am not hearing anything relative to workforce readiness. How about core curriculum that prepares students to know how to use information technology for their careers?” I was told to go wash my mouth out with soap! I responded, “You go wash your brains out with soap. You are not doing anyone any favors by only offering courses that do not lead to careers!”

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