By Mark Nemec, PhD
Eduventures President & CEO
Regardless of how colleges and universities are discussed by the public these days, be it through questioning, criticism, or downright contempt, the fundamental focus is on the utility of higher education.
Not a New Issue
The issue of higher education and job preparedness is not new. In fact, speaking in 1899 Andrew Carnegie said:
Current curriculum “seem adapted for life upon another planet than this as far as business affairs are concerned, the future captain of industry is hotly engaged in the school of experience, obtaining the very knowledge required for his future triumphs… College education as it exists is fatal to success in that domain.
Though not unique to our era, it is fair to say at no other time has the sentiment that the primary role of higher education is to prepare students for the workforce been accepted as a near universal truth, universal defined as being an issue where both sides of the aisle seem to find common ground.
This sentiment is not only at a heightened state amongst politicians, but recent data from Eduventures annual College Bound Market Update shows a concern for the direct impact of college choice on job prospects is shared by both prospective students and their parents to an extent never seen before. In fact, for the first time in our numerous years of conducting the study, influence on career prospects topped all other factors including academic quality as a driver of college choice.
A Shortsighted Approach
In the face of such an environment and with an understanding of the economic pressures impacting their communities, responsive university leaders, facing increased scrutiny and scarcity of resources, might focus all their efforts for innovation on employment. The assumption being that getting their graduates jobs is the only way to prove value.
Such an approach to innovation and definition of purpose is both short-sighted and counter-productive. While the immediate data suggests a singular focus, the longer arc of history shows that colleges and universities are perennially balancing their efforts at utility with the creation of social capital and citizenship, the heightening of cultural awareness, and the fundamentals of research and national economic and industrial competitiveness.
In fact, while utility is the focus today one need only look back to turn of this century for a heighted concern around civic participation as colleges were criticized for creating careerists without a sense of community who found themselves “bowling alone,” to the 1980s when Bloom, Hirsch and numerous other called for foster greater cultural awareness, and to the 1960s and Sputnik for an emphasis on industrial competitiveness.
A New Way of Innovation
This is not to be an apologist for the current state of higher education. Utility has always been and will always be a fundamental purpose of higher education. It is, however, not the only purpose for this or any period of time. With this in mind, as universities re-imagine themselves to meet the demands of the coming era not just the current moment they need to leverage the intellectual, human, and physical capital they have to create new partnerships, develop new structures, cultivate new audiences, and offer new packages in order to ensure their sustainability now and into the future irrespective of the singular priority of the times.
For more of Mark’s thoughts about innovation in higher education, join us on March 7 for a complimentary webinar “Reimagining the Ivory Tower: Innovation in an Era of Limitations”. Register today »