Quick thoughts. Caught this article, “Universities not preparing students for 21st century” by Mark C. Taylor. The title resonated with my current professional interests include preparing students to contribute to the 21st century STEM workforce.
The author launches the article with concerns about costs and financing: the decrease in public funding of education, the increasing proportion of costs that are passed on to students.
These problems are compounded by the fact that in far too many cases, college is not preparing students for life and work in the 21st century. A growing emphasis on research rather than teaching has led to over-specialized courses that often represent the interests of faculty rather than the needs of students. The curriculum needs to be thoroughly restructured in ways that break down barriers now separating departments, disciplines, and programs.
Universities are structured in ways that deter educators from making interdisciplinary connections with colleagues in other areas. Faculty are organized by department, departments are organized by schools, and budgets (which are the ultimate statement about institutional powers) are organized likewise. It’s a deeply entrenched siloing paradigm.
In addition, all courses – even those in the liberal arts and humanities – should engage real-world problems. Knowledge for knowledge’s sake is a luxury we can no longer afford. To insist that the curriculum should have a practical orientation is not, however, to claim that education should become narrowly vocational: Liberal-arts education has never been more important than in today’s globalized world.
Coming from a ‘purist’ liberal arts background, I understand the importance of decoupling learning from vocation. Knowledge that stands the test of time relates to deep principles, not cutting-edge trends and technology. However, an ‘ivory tower’ approach to learning (where students ‘go away’ for a monastic college experience for four years) appeals to too few students. And the real world is changing so quickly that educators are finding it very difficult to keep up with society’s workforce needs and opportunities that are available to students. If college and Universities work more closely with society to connect learning with ‘real world questions’ and ‘capacious social issues’, more people will pursue more education, and the higher education section will better serve the needs of the American and world economy.