Editorial: College reformers look to proficiency

  • Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 18, 2012 - 5:31 PM

They aim to better align learning with employers' needs.

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jim2011beamNov. 18, 12 8:21 PM

Sorry. By the time this committee-bound large-institution effort gets started on a 30 mph trial run the MOOCs (Udacity, Coursera, etc.) will have passed it at 180 mph.

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docgeddyNov. 18, 12 8:49 PM

MnSCU institutions have been developing these sorts of program assessments for a couple decades now. When it works well, you have nimble programs able to address gaps and to meet market demands. Minnesota has been out front on this issue for a long time. It's good, in an era when everyone clamors to eliminate business taxes, that corporations will invest in institutions to support transient special training costs. Four year colleges are also charged with preparing students for several career changes over their lifetimes. One way "problem solving skills" come in handy. The vaunted "skills gap" may a product of the breakdown between public and private sectors that distinguishes this moment.

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luzhishenNov. 19, 12 7:41 AM

"What if willing colleges, public and private, two-year and four-year, measured their senior students' proficiencies in the skills employers say they want from college-trained workers? (See a list of such skills, above right.) What if they employed the same nationally recognized measurement tool, so that one college's effectiveness could be compared with another's?" What if people stopped thinking that public institutions like colleges and universities existed for multiple purposes, not just being another way for business to outsource expenses? What if people realized the long-term advantages of education rather than some short-term gimmick? Oh, and bring in a real accountant to assess MnSCU and the U's programs with industry and get ready to find some perplexing results with programs like customized training or "externally"-funded research.

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elmore1Nov. 19, 12 7:42 AM

We need proficiency for students and efficiency for the instituions.

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naseth12Nov. 19, 12 8:58 AM

Well, a good start would be for schools to require philosophy classes as of old. Analysis, critical thinking, class discussions and papers on the subject (not to mention a potential boost) in personal ethics are all covered, and en some.

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beebee82Nov. 19, 12 9:57 AM

This editorial board continues to produce pieces such as this, urging higher education to close the "skills gap" as if this notion is a brand new concept. College graduates have had a "skills gap" for generations — it's called being 23 and having less life experience than a person in mid-career.

In the past, businesses accepted this fact of life and invested in training their own workforce in the specific skills they desired. These days, business expects recent grads to come perfectly prepared for the job market, down to the custom-tailored skills to do their very specific tasks. They've stopped paying for continued education or additional certificates needed. They stopped "on-the-job" training all-together in most industries.

No. Institutions of higher learning should not be overhauled in order to meet the very fleeting demands of business today. Tomorrow, those demands will be much different and business will be screaming for more reform. Tweak the areas in STEM and medicine where demand is high now, but stay true to the purpose of education — which is to teach, not train. Training should remain the onus of the employer benefiting from those custom skills.

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gandalf48Nov. 19, 1210:43 AM

I think we are going down the wrong path with this evaluation system from the universities and colleges. They're still going be very slow to react, they'll observe the results for a decade adjust their courses for another decade and end up 2 decades behind. What we need is a fast track system...universities and colleges can still do what they do, which is to provide a well-rounded education mainly for young adult students...the real change that is required is a new education system. Most students simply want the ability to get a good job coming out of college...they don't necessarily want to take the year or so of liberal education requirements. Mid-career professions can hardly take 4 years (or even 2 years) off to go back to school while taking care of a family, house and other expenses. We need a new type of school which communicates directly with the private sector to find out what types of jobs are in demand at this moment, where there is a true skills gap and produce students with those skills within 6 months to a year. Even college graduates may find this system useful to gain a brush up on their skills and gain some new ones for today's job market. The college system is far too slow to react and needs new competition, college prices are too high and take to long to adjust to an ever dynamic skill set that employers are requiring.

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beebee82Nov. 19, 1211:09 AM

gandalf, I agree. But I wouldn't call it a "new system of education" — but rather a "new system of business." Industries and jobs that don't necessarily require two or four years of instruction should be encouraged to establish training centers for those who are seeking a job rather than an education. Tax deductions and other incentives could help off-set the cost, but the majority of it should still be paid for by the companies benefiting from these custom-tailored programs.

Technical colleges used to provide this service — until business complained that tech grads lacked "soft skills" and convinced college administrations to load up curriculum with all kinds of credits not pertaining to their field.

Business had been very adept at convincing colleges and the taxpayer to adapt to their needs — at our expense — reaping the rewards without having to invest a single dime.

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elmore1Nov. 19, 1211:16 AM

beebee82, disagree totally. Our instituions of higher learning badly need to be overhauled. I don't know how you would ever "make" companies hire and train kids out of school. There are many options for sourcing in the global marketplace. Part of the reason why we are falling behind is because many of our colleges refuse to change and have become dinosaurs.

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beebee82Nov. 19, 1211:35 AM

elmore1, falling behind who? On what? Could our lagging position have anything to do with the fact that in a short 20-year period, the cost of college has shifted from 70 percent taxpayer/30 percent student to 70 percent student/30 percent taxpayer? Could it have anything to do with wages that have stagnated so dramatically? (Who wants to enter college for a grueling engineering degree only to graduate with $10-$15 an hour prospects and $60,000 in student loans?)

I'm not sure when the last time it was that you stepped foot on a college campus, but they are certainly not going the way of the dinosaur. We could definitely consolidate the number of institutions we have to realize considerable cost-savings (as well as curb the trend of building new facilities every other year). But the classroom has been updated, overhauled and reformed countless times in response to business demands. If you wonder where the push for more credits, more classes, more technology comes from — it's business — not some liberal sitting in an office thinking up new courses for students.

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