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.