mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Credentialing For Future Jobs

Can closer cooperation with employers help higher ed out of its crisis? One potentially useful strategy is wedding various industries to academia and producing graduates with the specific credentials those industries desire. Inside Higher Ed outlines one such endeavor in manufacturing management (h/t Glenn Reynolds):

For example, Harper College, a community college in Illinois, last month launched a program where students can earn industry-endorsed certificates in manufacturing. And 54 companies have agreed to hire students from two-year college as paid interns as soon as students complete the first level certificate, which, at 16 credits, can be earned in less than four months.

If Harper students thrive in their internships and are able to progress in their manufacturing careers without earning more credentials, everybody wins (except for the college’s graduation rate). But even better if students decide to continue their educations and work toward more advanced certificates or degrees.

Some academics will resist the close integration of college programs with employer demands, but even in this economy there are manufacturers facing a shortage of workers with necessary skills. Harvard and Princeton may not be adapting their curricula to the needs of the local widget works, but there are a great many students, mostly from lower income backgrounds in this country, who think a shorter and less expensive period in school followed by a guaranteed chance at a good manufacturing job is a big improvement on the kind of education they get now.

What we call education in this country is a blend of two things: training for specific jobs or industries and the development of critical reasoning and cultural and scientific literacy. (In former times there was another element, called character building, more important than either of the first two. We’ve pretty much dropped that one now, except for the PC indoctrination work — a vestigial and both spiritually and psychologically stunted remnant of what good colleges once saw as their core mission.)

Character building needs to come back and perhaps one day it will, but in the meantime we need to a much better job at offering the skills training in a cheaper, more focused and more effective way. Helping young people get into the workforce and helping older workers enhance their skills and acquire new ones at a cost that doesn’t bankrupt either the students or society is a matter of the highest national interest.

To a large degree the American higher ed system is based on an attempt to blend training and education. The result is that most American higher ed institutions aren’t very good at either one, and costs are higher than they should be.

We used to be able to afford that kind of inefficiency, but with the more competitive global economy combined with our growing need for more and better skill training we can no longer carry the current system.

What Harper College is doing is working its way back toward something like the German apprenticeship system; it’s a good idea and we need more of it, but there may come a time when it’s clear that we’ll need institutions even more stripped down and functional than community colleges to deliver these programs at the right price.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Boritz

    Once upon a time employers reasoned thusly:
    You, the recent graduate, don’t know even 10 percent of what is needed to perform in the position for which we are hiring. HOWEVER, since you are a graduate of the program in and have made good grades this makes you a good risk for us to hire and train until you know enough to actually do the job. While this is approach is expensive and has a significant lag time before we will get any real work out of you we are struck with it.
    This is certainly an inefficient approach as Mead points out. It also greatly devalues the worth of a degree above the entry level. In IT and engineering, for example, very rare is the employer who cares after one has acquired two years ‘real world’ experience where an applicant went to school or what his grade point average might be. After this point the possession of a degree from anywhere with any grades becomes a mere checkbox in the hiring process.
    Being marketable based on actualy acquired skill from day one is a winner for both the student and the employer.
    As far as character training it comes in two flavors.
    1. Value Relativist: ‘Character’ ? What’s that?
    2. Academic/Green: A love of the earth and all things multicultural, of course.

  • MC

    Doesn’t this image the university banish the humanities from offering majors and degrees, and push them back into core/Gen Ed service? No one will get certificates in history or philosophy.

    Considering how poor high school history teaching is, it seems logical to infer that transitioning universities to certificate-granting schools will not improve historical knowledge or understanding. Instead, history classes will be box to check off on student’s plan of study.

  • Mark Mazer

    Timely post from July’s LaserFocusWorld mag:

    “The changing face of the American economy and education present US optics companies with a major barrier to growth: Lack of trained workforce. Here in Rochester, a university town for sure and the only city in the world that offers an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate in optics, lack of talent is still the single top challenge named by manufacturers.”

    Read the entire post.

  • Mike Anderson

    “We used to be able to afford that kind of inefficiency…”

    We used to THINK we could afford that kind of inefficiency, but it turns out it was all financed with debt. Now we have no money to pay the bills, and no skills to get a paying job.

  • Andrew Allison

    The problem is the “degree check-box” which is largely irrelevant for most jobs. In my opinion, there needs to be motivation other than simply being able to check the box to justify the cost of higher education. Work-study programs offer both employee and employer more bang-for-the-buck.
    One might argue that actually working for a credential, as opposed to simply buying it with borrowed money, takes character.

  • Mark Mazer

    With three generations of public school teachers in our family, we have concluded that detracked, heterogenous classrooms in core academic subjects have mostly failed. We were wondering what WRM thinks about “equity, inclusion, diversity” vs tracked/ability based classrooms?

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Mark Mazer: this is exactly the kind of question that ought to be left to teachers and parents to decide. I’d like to see teachers with different ideas about this free to form school that reflected the different philosophies, let parents choose, and over time we would likely learn more about what works. What’s best for most children may not be best for all, and approaches that fit the style of some teachers may not work well for others. Let a hundred flowers bloom… and see what happens.

  • Luke Lea

    Let students track themselves!

    And let vocational education begin in Middle School.

  • Richard Treitel

    “What we call education in this country is a blend of two things: training for specific jobs or industries and the development of critical reasoning and cultural and scientific literacy.”

    A good first step would be to go public with this distinction, admit that these two things are done under the same roof (and are paid for by the same government loan programs) for reasons more historical than practical, and give colleges, students, employers, lenders, governments, and — gasp! — voters a chance to think about how much they want of each of these two things and what they are really worth.

    I don’t often advocate trying to change the way people think by changing the words they use, but in this case the undifferentiated concept of “education” is leading to sloppy thinking that should be clarified.

    Then we can remove the stigma from people who get three fourths of a Bachelor’s degree.

  • Joe H.

    If you log on to Amazon right now, you’ll see a letter from Jeff Bezos touting the new Amazon Career Choice Program. A portion of that letter follows:

    Today, we’re announcing our newest innovation — one we’re especially excited about — the Amazon Career Choice Program.

    Many of our fulfillment center employees will choose to build their careers at Amazon. For others, a job at Amazon might be a step towards a career in another field. We want to make it easier for employees to make that choice and pursue their aspirations. It can be difficult in this economy to have the flexibility and financial resources to teach yourself new skills. So, for people who’ve been with us as little as three years, we’re offering to pre-pay 95% of the cost of courses such as aircraft mechanics, computer-aided design, machine tool technologies, medical lab technologies, nursing, and many other fields.

    The program is unusual. Unlike traditional tuition reimbursement programs, we exclusively fund education only in areas that are well-paying and in high demand according to sources like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and we fund those areas regardless of whether those skills are relevant to a career at Amazon.

    Like many of our innovations at Amazon, the Career Choice Program is an experiment. We’re excited about it and hope it will pay big dividends for some of our employees. This is one innovation that we hope other companies in this economy will copy.

    Jeff Bezos
    Founder & CEO

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service