Monday, May 12, 2014

Let the Commencing of the Commencement Commence!

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I love the idea of using education to further improve society and create a more just, enlightened society. And I love the idea that every human, no matter the background, can benefit from an education to do just this. But in a challenging economy - where, as Monica Hesse from the Washington Post writes, "qualified workers can't find jobs, and jobs can't quite final qualified workers" - higher education is charged with doing more.




The changing fundamental purpose of higher education is a popular topic, one I've written about before. Theadora Kalikow writes in "Higher education goal: Transform lives or prepare workers for jobs?" for the Morning Sentinel writes this fabulous line: 
A college degree, however, also ought to certify that the holder of that degree has had the opportunity to start crafting a life of a sort that they might never have imagined before they went to college. The reality of transformed lives is what we are celebrating at commencement. [Emphasis mine]
I love this line primarily because it moves away from the "OR" and towards an "AND." In other words, we don't necessarily need to change the purpose of higher education at the expense of another, but in addition to. Higher education can be about transforming lives by preparing workers for jobs. 

That does require higher education - and industry, and students, and K-12 - to redefine that role formally. Many of the skills that applicants lack, as reported in the Business Leaders Supplemental Survey Report, include skills that are often assumed to be taught along the way: computer literacy, punctuality, and interpersonal skills. Have we honestly given these skills the attention they deserve? If higher education does not positively and aggressively promise to address those issues, can we truly say that we are preparing workers for jobs? Is it enough to throw our hands in the air and blame K-12 for not including it in their curriculum? Or, worse yet, the students for not teaching themselves? 

As we send our students off to begin their new lives post-credential, let's begin our own commencement. That transformation will be well worth celebrating.

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