Sunday, February 8, 2015

Should Higher Education Be About the Search for Knowledge or the Search for a Job?

One of hazards of early morning blogging is that it allows later-in-the-day bloggers to write unfettered responses to those articles.  Today, my friend Sheila Kennedy, sparks an interesting and much-needed debate over the purpose of higher education, an article posted both on her own blog and on IBJ's INForefront.   I feel compelled to respond.

In the column, Kennedy quotes sources reporting that Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker
had wanted to insert language in the budget stating the [University of Wisconsin's] mission was “to meet the state’s workforce needs.” He wanted to remove language saying UW’s mission is to “extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries
of its campus” and to “serve and stimulate society.” He also wanted to remove the statement “Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth 
Kennedy makes the argument that the pursuit of higher education should be about the search for knowledge, not for the purpose of training people for jobs.  She concludes her piece saying:
Scott Walker is emblematic of the anti-intellectualism that is so rampant on the American Right.  He is one of the (far too many) shallow and ambitious politicians who think education and job training are synonymous, that scholarly research and "search for the truth" are elitist non-essentials, and that humans don't need to know anything that isn't immediately useful for obtaining gainful employment.  They'd have handed Socrates that cup of hemlock without thinking twice.
After all, if people are allowed to search for truth, they’ll ask inconvenient questions. They’ll challenge the martinets. They might even see themselves as citizens rather than obedient consumers.
Ironically Kennedy's approach to argument smacks of anti-intellectualism.  Instead of assuming that Governor Walker simply has an alternative view of the purpose of education and arguing why that position is wrong, she instead attacks what she assumes are the motivation for Walker's position...that he hates knowledge.

I actually have a great deal of empathy for Kennedy's position that higher education should be about the quest for knowledge.  I taught political science as an adjunct instructor at IUPUI at the University of Indianapolis for over 20 years.  Kennedy is a professor of Law and Policy at IUPUI and has been an adjunct professor of political science.  We both have law degrees and worked as lawyers.  I loved the knowledge that my college and law school education provided me and thought at times of returning to get an MBA or doctorate in history.  When I taught, I felt good educating people about how our political system and government really works.  Most of my students were not majoring in political science, but I feel what I taught them enriched their lives and made them better citizens. Ex-students have told me that I did just that.

Unfortunately, the intellectual world that Kennedy and I would like to live in, the one which values education simply for the knowledge received, is not the real world that the young adults of today face.  Many of these kids (I'm old enough now that I can call young adults in their teens and 20's "kids") are amassing enormous, often six figure, student loan debt to obtain college and advanced degrees.  What education they choose will probably be the most important investment they ever make.

The job market of today is not one where you meet personally with an employer and you can impress that person with your well-rounded knowledge.  Rather today's job market involves applying to virtually every employment opportunity on line.  The employer puts the inevitable hundreds of resumes that will be received for any decent paying position through an automated screening process.  An applicant who doesn't have the right degree with the right major is eliminated from consideration. Those who have advanced degrees beyond the education requested by the employer are eliminated as being overqualified.  The remaining ten applicants or so are the only ones the employer considers to interview.  It is an impersonal process that is brutally efficient and terribly unfair for those who did what Kennedy suggests in pursuing education as a "search for knowledge" instead of a means to employment.

No, Sheila, in today's job market it is essential that colleges and universities focus on educating people for jobs in the workforce.  Governor Walker is absolutely right.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

I suppose, largely because I heard it all through my liberal arts education, that tomorrow's jobs won't look much like today's jobs, and one is better off knowing how to think, and also assembling enough tools that it's possible to understand and ever changing world.

Lawyers largely dislike engineers because they know how to build something, but don't much care whether what they're going to build makes any sense in the larger scheme. I think engineers likely invented the phrase, "that's above my pay grade."

Hopefully we can still educate a few folks who can fill that higher pay grade.

Susan McKee said...

Good heavens, Paul K. Ogden, you're wrong about the purpose of higher education.

It is NOT vocational ed, but -- as 4:26 pm said -- "tomorrow's jobs won't look much like today's jobs, and one is better off knowing how to think, and also assembling enough tools that it's possible to understand and ever changing world."

Gov. Walker never got the memo.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Susan, not sure where I said that the purpose of higher education was "vocational ed." But if you think that the purpose of college isn't to give people the background to get gainful employment, yes I would strongly disagree with you on that. Your assumption that because you can't guess precisely what the job market you shouldn't train at all for that job market is nonsense. Many of these kids are incurring six figures in student loan debt in the process of obtain a college and/or an advanced degree. If they are getting an education that actually hurts them in their search for employment then it's an extremely poor investment.

Hoosier in the Heartland said...

Vocational and trade schools train people for (existing) jobs.

Universities teach people how to think so that they can create new jobs (and I mean that in the broadest sense of uncovering new knowledge).

The student loan problem is a whole 'nother can of worms and has more to do with corporate decision-making and legislative inaction on fiscal abuses (to quote Elizabeth Warren).

Anonymous said...

I know a great many people who hang on in preconceived agreement with anything this woman says or pens. The reason "why" is completely baffling but there you have it. When these Kennedy fans who are consumed with a weird adoration fetish with this woman are presented with logic that destroys Ms. Kennedy's cases, the sycophants shake their heads and refuse to see the actuality at the tips of their noses and usually try to deflect the crux to a side issue... as in... "but what about George Bush!?!".

The everyday fact is that Ms. Kennedy is often wrong on just about everything.

TableTopJoe said...

Mr. Ogden, you conveniently overlook the parochialism and nepotism that defines so much of the hiring landscape these days. You indicate that employers send hundreds of resumes through a "culling" process (my term, not yours) and then only interview the select few who make it through that.

My experience, both good and bad, is that most hiring decisions are made based on "I know a guy" more than "this resume really hits the spot." Until we can admit that this is the state of affairs (that necessarily limits opportunity for those who are not well connected) and work for ways to ameliorate its effects, all of this discussion of education is really worth very little.

And to your point as to cost, you are in a better position than I to know the relative subsidization of higher ed now versus in the late 1970s. What is that level of subsidy given by the state? What percentage of the total cost of college education at a public flagship university does the state pick up now, as opposed to thirty or forty years ago?

RhondaLeeBaby69 said...

"Lawyers largely dislike engineers because they know how to build something, but don't much care whether what they're going to build makes any sense in the larger scheme." And everyone (including engineers) largely dislike lawyers because they are a construct of society and are, for the most part, unnecessary for the advancement of civilization. A lawyer did not invent disinfection, mass-production, the automobile, the airplane, or the internet. All lawyers do is promote discord and disunity for the own benefit.

As for the phrase, "that's above my pay grade,", I'm pretty sure that some lawyer uttered those words and thus the disclaimer was born.

RhondaLeeBaby69 said...

Paul, have you ever considered the possibility that there are college students with no intention of pursuing a job in their major after college? I know countless business owners who majored in engineering, math, science, or liberal arts to get into business school.

Anonymous said...

Quick, someone who can still read take a peek at The Magnificent Ambersons

Anonymous said...

"Instead of assuming that Governor Walker simply has an alternative view of the purpose of education and arguing why that position is wrong,"

No, Ogden, Walked is describing training. Education is another matter.

Lots of people have training in this or that. Fewer are educated. A pointed argument against Kennedy is that no education of any esteem occurs in SPEA or Law, her typical postings.

Republicans strike me as the people who were only at college to do the bare minimum to get a degree and forgot everything immediately afterwards.

MikeC said...

If you go to college and search for knowledge, and can't get a job with the major you chose, that's on you. Who cares what some law says? People get what they pay for.

bjb said...

Paul, to answer the headline's rhetorical question, "yes."

And as for the first poster above ... knowing how to think and build arguments based upon logic in this social order is a fine way to stand out for a government hammering. Sheep are the main product of the schools, and sheep are want the government desires.

Anonymous said...

A difficult conversation needs to be had in this country about workforce training - like or dislike Walker's comments you have to admit this is a good start to a necessary conversation. Education and independent thought are very important, and so is the practicality of everyone spending 6 figures on a degree.

There's a mindset in this country that to amount to anything in life you have to get a college degree; winners are thinkers and creators, while losers are those who do actual labor. Forget the fact that most jobs in this country don't demand a four year degree, and most descent hard working people in this country really aren't cut out to get such a degree to begin with. Advanced and specialized training is becoming more and more necessary for getting a good blue collar job - that's where more focus and respect needs to be placed.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Sorry Anon 5:31, but the distinction you're trying to make between education and "training" simply isn't there.

The bottom line is the one thing you cannot provide any answer to is that if you aren't educated in the area for which you seek a job in today's economy you're not going to get th job. People shouldn't be borrowing six figure in student loans to be more "educated" only to find out that education, unrelated to their career, makes them less employable, not more.

Indy Rob said...

I think that higher education should focus on both the practical and the less practical knowledge ( for example chemistry and astrophysics, design and art history).

Gov Walker (and Mitch) for that matter are focusing on the practical side only, while higher education seems to be more about letting students make their own curriculum. I think the best educations falls between these two extremes.

I see plenty of issues with the number of graduates that have degrees in a field that has limited employment, I also see issues with studying something just so you can be employed today while missing out the chance of extending yourself.

Hoosier in the Heartland said...

The skills necessary for today's jobs are not the skills that will be required for tomorrow's jobs.

Those who consider higher education as job training will be out of a job if they're unable to recognize that whatever they've learned will be quickly obsolete.

Knowing how to think allows people to adapt to changing circumstances -- and also know that change is the only constant in life.

Personal example: my first interaction with computers was as a highly trained keypunch operator. Now, I design websites -- a concept unknown outside geek circles when I went to college.

The reference to the Magnificent Ambersons was spot on (but, then, you've probably never read it).

Anonymous said...

"Sorry Anon 5:31, but the distinction you're trying to make between education and "training" simply isn't there."

Of course, it's there. How can you not see this? I'm not likely to have a discussion about Kant, Mozart or Pericles with someone who spent his days on campus learning how to use Excel spreadsheets or write Java code.

A code writer may have an impressive body of training, but training is hardly education.

"The bottom line is the one thing you cannot provide any answer to is that if you aren't educated in the area for..."

Stop you right there, big guy. "Education" presumes no object and is the end in itself.

"...which you seek a job in today's economy you're not going to get th job."

More's the pity, and this is why America is failing and becoming stultified at a gallop. Employers are supposed to hire the best and brightest people and train them in the job for which they are assigned.

It is recent nonsense to force people to pay for their own job training. As the students are paying for job training and taking job training classes, they are increasingly taking classes that have no place at a college. We are giving people empty college degrees. There's very little college in many college degrees.

College is not trade school. Any job of consequence should be filled by an educated man, not a trained man. Trained men work in production. Educated men work in management.

"People shouldn't be borrowing six figure in student loans to be more "educated" only to find out that education, unrelated to their career, makes them less employable, not more."

Then the solution resides in America regaining its strength and intellect by hiring true college graduates, not by cheapening college to be a self-funded job-training program.

Further, no college graduate has an idea what career he wants to pursue. Forcing 18-28 year old students to choose a lifelong career without ever having attempted the career and to pay dearly being trained in the career is madness.

When the student doesn't ultimately pursue the career, we're left with an irrelevantly trained person, uneducated, living with a mountain of debt.

America is falling, and we probably deserve it. America is suffering a collapse of culture, taste and discrimination, and our baseness will grease the rails to our mediocrity.

Anonymous said...

I will not assume to interpret Gov. Walker's intent in his mention of the addition of 'meeting the workplace needs of the State' in a large land-grant university's mission statement. Frankly he was elected by the voters of his State, and perhaps he expressed the wishes of his constituents.

I view this as no concern of Mrs. Kennedy whose writings now exhibit signs of a polarity between her inability, perhaps a refusal, to entertain different ideas while simultaneously espousing a solid liberal education as a democratic endeavor providing all students with, first, the ability to question authority, whether that is the medieval Church that Galileo faced or the House Committee on Un-American Activities of the 1950s.

In short, she no longer practices what she preaches and now preaches only to her choir.

Paul K. Ogden said...

There is nothing more I would like than to live in a world in which education, for knowledge's sake is highly valued by employers. But it's not. All those who are dumping on Walker have absolutely no answer to the fact that going into a job search with a well-rounded educational background without education in the area of employment one is applying means that person isn't going to get considered by the employer. That person will be screened out without so much as an interview.

You want the world to be a certain way and for a well-rounded education to be properly valued. Again, I'd love to be living in that world. But the real world in which these graduates are applying is a world in which the well-rounded general education is not valued. Again, that person will be screened out by the computer software that narrows the field.

HIH, I've seen the Orson Wells movie by the same name. Do you suggest that an applicant whose resume hits the trash can because it doesn't reflect the right educational background yell out "But What About the Magnificent Albertsons?" to cause reconsideration? Not sure that would work.

Susan McKee said...

Frank Bruni: "it’s impossible to put a dollar value on a nimble, adaptable intellect, which isn’t the fruit of any specific course of study and may be the best tool for an economy and a job market that change unpredictably."

Anonymous said...

We're to take advice on higher education from Walker, a college dropout funk-out?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/as-scott-walker-mulls-white-house-bid-questions-linger-over-college-exit/2015/02/11/8e17ea44-b13e-11e4-886b-c22184f27c35_story.html

Paul K. Ogden said...
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Paul K. Ogden said...

Anon 11:43, there are plenty of highly educated people who think college should be about educating people for jobs that actually exist. Indiana Governor Mike Pence has a college and law degree and takes the same approach. So do many others.

Again, I'd love nothing more for people to be able to pursue education for the knowledge it provides and not have to worry about being educated for the jobs that are out there. But that's not the real world. Instead of bad-mouthing politicians who are honest about what the job market is like and are trying to help young kids who are amassing a lifetime of debt to go to school, why not work on employers to be more open-minded about considering prospective employees who aren't educated specifically for the job they are applying? I will be totally on your side.

Anonymous said...

Please don't look to Pence as an intellectual benchmark. He was a frat boy as an undergraduate, and he attended IUPUI Law.

A law degree is unquestionably training, not education. For this reason, law school is classified as professional school. As a profession, Law rarely looks outside itself to verify whether anything it says makes any sort of sense in a scientific or logical dimension. Courts merely write whatever they want, and it becomes law.

Physics doesn't have that luxury.

Lawyers used to be considered learned men, well versed in poetry, literature, the sciences, history, Latin. Real lawyers existed even into the 1920's. Today, lawyers are merely technicians, and the law is approached as a mechanical exercise. Many lawyers are truly stupid people who lack the ability to write with proper English or to consider any dimension of a problem not found in headnotes.

Law is not an estimable diploma.

"Again, I'd love nothing more for people to be able to pursue education for the knowledge it provides and not have to worry about being educated for the jobs that are out there."

I'm considering whether we ought to pass a law forbidding employers from requiring job candidates to possess any sort of training for any job earning less than $50K.

"But that's not the real world."

No, the real American world is that we have a nation of idiots who enter college writing at a 7th grade level, merely seek to know what's going to be on the test during their stay at college, get an empty degree to qualify for a job and sleepwalk through life, hoping the job stays under their feet for 40 years.

The entire American society is becoming fast-foodized.

"Instead of bad-mouthing politicians who are honest about what the job market is like and are trying to help young kids who are amassing a lifetime of debt to go to school,"

They're not helping anyone, and they need to be insulted. They're turning this country into the America they want, a dumb, shallow, TV-watching dullness where sports and combat are glorified and where one's worth is directly proportional to one's economic impact.

Republicans are highly anti-intellectual, with little taste for long arguments, complex solutions and nuanced discourse. They like shallow thinking, false polarization, facile solutions, and they prefer someone who is "The Decider" over someone who is right.

Republicans are also very anti-individualistic, with a foundational belief that everyone should find a productive place in the economy and be as productive as possible to make the collective economy better for everyone. Republicans believe that one who stands for the rights of the individual in conflict with the needs of the economy should be punished and shunned. Republicans believe that the health of the economy is the highest law, and that all written laws should serve the economy. To the extent that a law is imprecisely written so that it may be interpreted in favor of the individual, any alternate interpretation is to be imposed by the court favoring the economic collective.

At the root of this Republican anti-intellectualism is a deep collectivist belief system. They're corporate-minded Socialists. A good word for them might be the Supercapitalists noted by Mussolini. Other operational definitions might be corporate Capitalism or one of the more precise uses of Fascism.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supercapitalism_%28concept_in_Italian_Fascism%29

Anonymous said...

"why not work on employers to be more open-minded about considering prospective employees who aren't educated specifically for the job they are applying? I will be totally on your side."

In exchange for having corporate personhood, we should be imposing a passel of requirements on corporations.

In the main, however, corporations are run by shallow-thinking, narrow-minded business types. Any discussion with these people that has more than three moves causes their eyes to glaze.

They're not educated, and they don't value education. We are living in the age of the Corporate Man. We are well into being some variant of a fascist country, or perhaps more accurately, a corporate-economic-state structure not yet identified by the political philosophers. These very days will be regarded as dark times in the History of Man.

Hoosier in the Heartland said...

Paul: do I actually neet to point out that seeing the movie is not the same as reading the book?

"The Magnificent Ambersons" was written by Indy native Booth Tarkington. It won a Pulitzer Prize in 1919.

Hollywood patched on a happy ending for the 1942 film (among other alterations), which cannot be said to be congruent with the book.

But I guess you didn't learn the difference between literature and cinema in college.

Paul K. Ogden said...
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Paul K. Ogden said...

Anon 3:58 says:

"A law degree is unquestionably training, not education."

You obviously never went to law school. In law school, we never were trained to be lawyers at all. That's part of the problem with law school. We were taught theory and theory only. You don't see doctors taught theory and then told to go perform an operation.

There has never been any educational institution called the IUPUI Law School. There was (is?) a school called the Indiana University School of Law at Indianapolis which was (is?) one of the better law schools in Indiana.

As far as Republicans being "anti-intellectual" you do realize that Republicans are on average better educated than Democrats don't you?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Ogden,

What "theory" were you taught in law school? Philosophical theory? Mathematical theory? Sociological theory? No, you were taught legal theory. If I grant your point that teaching legal theory is not professional training, neither is it any real exercise in education. Law opinions never form the foundation of any serious scholarship in any of the real disciplines. Critical Legal Studies examines court opinions but only in criticism.

"There has never been any educational institution called the IUPUI Law School. There was (is?) a school called the Indiana University School of Law at Indianapolis which was (is?) one of the better law schools in Indiana."

Don't get testy. Everyone knows it's IUPUI Law, and out of the four law schools in the state, it's tied for third.

"As far as Republicans being "anti-intellectual" you do realize that Republicans are on average better educated than Democrats don't you?"

OH, MY GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What is with this false dichotomy?

Research anon the Fallacy of the Excluded Middle Value.

Please also research an idea called Inverted Totalitarianism. Your axiomatic belief in two sides of an issue is well explained by this theory.

Paul K. Ogden said...
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Paul K. Ogden said...
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Paul K. Ogden said...

Anon 914: No professor at the school or graduate has ever called it the IUPUI Law School. We all know better. Whenever we hear the term "IUPUI Law School" we know it's someone completely unfamiliar with legal education in the state.

The two IU schools are on about the same level, considered only behind Notre Dame, which has a small class. That would make it tied for second out of the now five law schools. IU Law School is not considered a top tier law school, but it's a lot closer to the top tier than the bottom tier.

"Anti-intellectualism" apparently to you means someone who doesn't believe in what you believe.