Published on 2012/04/30

Those Who Can, Do; Those Who Cannot, Teach

Those Who Can, Do; Those Who Cannot, Teach
In order for higher education institutions to get graduates ready for the workforce, they must adopt a more business-like approach to education delivery. Photo by Buddawiggi.

Many of my colleagues bristle at this subject, yet perhaps we in higher education are the ones reinforcing it.  Yesterday and today on NBC and CNBC Andrea Mitchell and Matt Lauer revealed the following startling statistics, “53% of those holding masters and doctorates are unemployed or underemployed; 50% of recent college graduates are also unemployed or underemployed” (NBC, April 25, 2012).  In The Chronicle of Higher Education on Saturday, April 21, 2012, wrote, “By 2020, 2.6 million new jobs will require an advanced degree…And graduate students need to do a better job …of preparing students for a range of careers and tracking where they work.”  There will be more jobs, but there are many jobs available now, if only graduates were prepared to step into them and be productive.  So, why is this happening in an era when higher education is increasingly being held accountable for placement after graduation?  What are the factors contributing to the unemployment and underemployment of our graduates?

The cornerstone of the problem is that higher education courses in most universities are based on pedagogy (childhood educational theory) as opposed to andragogy (adult education theory).  Bloom’s taxonomy of educational behavioral objectives stresses there are three areas which must be addressed: cognitive objectives—increasing knowledge, psychomotor—creating skill or behaviors to think and do something, and finally affective behavioral objectives—changing attitudes and feelings which prevent behavioral change.  Higher education is and has been focused on imparting knowledge which is tested in true/false, multiple choice tests and oftentimes a written essay or paper.  Not all people can translate knowledge into behaviors in the workplace.  At one point in the last thirty years, liberal arts degrees became passé and universities began churning out MBA’s; a common complaint was that once hired into leadership positions most failed as the “real world” did not match experiences in higher education.  Case studies, which are considered highly effective ways to teach, do not often reflect reality.  Many universities are in fact beginning to focus on providing “real world experience”.  This focus has been pushed forward by some of the for-profits massive advertising campaign focused on the work achievements of their graduates after graduation.

The Council of Graduate Schools and the Educational Testing Service published their findings on this dilemma and found “graduate degree holders lacked some essential professional skills needed for success in a business environment, such as savvy teamwork and presentation skills.  The report emphasized graduate students need to be taught to innovate, apply their content knowledge to other areas and think like entrepreneurs.”

Graduate schools continue to work on a model that trains people to work individually.  But the real issue here is that education, after years of being told that they need to collaborate with business, refuses to not only collaborate but also to even acknowledge that business is in fact a customer.  When education responds to perceived business needs as in the proliferation of leadership degrees, educators and instructional designers use old paradigms of presenting and testing for knowledge.  Thousands of graduate degrees in leadership are awarded annually across our nation, yet these same graduates do not necessary have the skills and attitudes and behaviors to perform successfully not only in business but also in government, health care, industry.

Many years ago when I earned my first masters, all the English faculty insisted I get my PhD and teach English in a university.  This was truly not a result of my extraordinary teaching prowess (I never took an education course at this point and no one had seen me in front of a class) but rather their perception that this was all one could do with a masters in English.  My English degree has provided me many incredible positions and indeed careers and I was sent by General Motors to earn a Masters in human resource management not for the knowledge but to give the perception to potential employers that I knew business.  Faculty and career development departments truly have little clue as to what their graduates can do.  Many graduate degree holders move into education believing that is the only career option; most of these have no education courses nor experience teaching.  At least three professionals falling into this group will ask groups online, “how do I get a job teaching online?”  My response is why would you want one?  I want to hear some rhetoric about a calling, a commitment to society, experience that demonstrated the right “fit”—something that indicates this person has the desire and commitment to serve the customer.

Quoted in The Chronicle, Pat S. Osmer, vice provost and dean of the graduate school of Ohio State University and chair of the commission that produced the report on Higher Education Graduate Needs, Dr. Osamer states, “graduate school is no longer about making clones of ourselves and training people with the same techniques to work on the same problems from decades ago….It is about identifying the important research and solving problems of the 21st century.  We need to make sure our graduates learn the right skills and techniques to do that” (Patton, 2012).  Many universities are trying to accomplish this; however, professors are chosen based on traditional degrees and publications in academic journals; few even consider and acknowledge work experience.  So, in many cases we have professors who have never been outside of academia teaching students who have no idea what to do outside academia, so they attempt to teach.  Higher education teaching is definitely considered in the category of underemployed based on pay which continues to fall.

Under President Carter I was appointed to serve on a national committee to promote collaboration of higher education and business and industry.  The same issues that are being highlighted in this article were the focus of our findings.  The ivory tower needs a new wing.  Businesses are forming their own universities.  Funding for higher education is falling; full time faculty are being terminated and more and more adjuncts are working, some at 9-10 universities simultaneously to put together a living wage, and the foundations seem to be crumbling.  We need close connection to our customers to stay alive; we will not get that without providing skills and behaviors needed by those customers.

The customers are in the midst of continuous transformational changes, flat organizational structures, team based organizations, teams with customers and suppliers, successfully dealing with multicultural issues and international dealings.  Higher education does not even mirror the customers’ rhetoric or effective business practices.  “For profits” had a chance to form mirroring business and industry best practices, but instead the layers of bureaucracy are identical to what they were 40 years ago when I was a Dean.  Increased customer service is the model of effectiveness today with embedded customers and suppliers and even vendors; where is higher education working on that model?  Interviews reveal the common theme, “we cannot do that without losing our accreditation”; for years I have heard clients using similar excuses to not do what was new and threatening.

Not all of higher education is mired in the past; many universities are doing great experimental programs, but in evaluating this truth, one needs to look into what behaviors are being demonstrated?

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Readers Comments

Karen Williams 2012/05/01 at 11:03 am

This article is so true. I have over 20 years of experience in my field and recently earned my MFA specifically so that I could teach higher education. Guess what? I can’t get a job teaching despite the fact that I have the degree and extensive professional experience in the field. I keep losing out to candidates who have teaching experience, but not the professional experience that I do. I was inspired to teach after mentoring young professionals while I was a Director at a large company. I’d love to continue doing that and pass on my hard-earned wisdom to students, but unfortunately academic institutions prefer teaching experience over professional experience. This is unfortunate for both students and businesses.

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