Back in April, 2012, Frank Bruni, a regular columnist for The New York Times Magazine, wrote an Op-ed piece that was much discussed at the time. Entitled “The Imperial Promise of College,” it argued that the condition of the current economy (e.g., the high un/under-employment rate, the staggering amount of collective student debt, etc.) should prompt college students to select majors that have direct, practical pay-off. After singling out a couple of examples of majors that, in all likelihood, turn out to be unrelated (or as he might have phrased it, irrelevant) to someone’s eventual career, he writes: Continue reading “Journalist, Know Thyself”
Back in 2010, this video was making the rounds on the internet (I believe that the original version is found here, on the site where these movies are made). On one level it is pretty funny, of course–lampooning the naive undergraduate student’s dreams for a career in “the life of the mind,” as it was once known, by means of a harsh introduction to the politics and economics of contemporary University life. The humor, it seems, is in the clash of viewpoints and both side’s dogged persistence to stick with their story, as if the conversation wasn’t even happening. Continue reading ““So, Will You Write Me a Recommendation?””
The challenges that a liberal arts education faces in today’s environment became apparent to me in a new way this week. I noticed for the first time a television ad for a for-profit college that features a young man explicitly asserting that he did not gain job skills in college, so now he is training at this for-profit educational company. Beyond the ideological challenges that public institutions face in today’s climate, a clear monetary incentive exists for some to question the relevance of what happens in liberal arts institutions. The combination of for-profit educational institutions, online education, and the business model for public education together heighten the need for clear articulations of the relevance of fields that do not have simple answers to the employability debate.
When engaging in the employability debate (which is problematic in its own right), many departments in the Humanities and Social Sciences need to challenge what Gregory Alles calls the “narrow managerial mentality,” the assumption that qualifying for a career requires an undergraduate degree in the field of one’s career. In raising this issue, Alles distinguishes between careers that require “a high percentage of non-transferable ‘hard skills’” and careers that “require the acquisition of a larger percentage of highly transferable ‘soft skills’ and a knowledge base that has both breadth and depth. Most of the specific skills that are needed can be learned on the job, indeed, are probably best learned there” (Religion  41:2, 219-220). Continue reading “Engaging the Employability Debate”
In the current economic environment, with government budget shortfalls and both public and private universities facing cutbacks, departments and disciplines must demonstrate their own necessity. For example, Gov. Rick Scott of Florida said that his state did not need “a lot more anthropologists in this state” but should train university students in “those type of degrees that when they get out of school, they can get a job” (Tampa Bay Times). In response, groups, such as some students from the University of South Florida, emphasized the jobs that anthropology majors do and their contributions to the state of Florida. While that response was particularly appropriate for the political discourse, a focus solely on the jobs that graduates can obtain may concede too much to a narrowly pragmatic view of education. Is a university education primarily about getting a job?