Beginnings Liberal Education Students Value and Affordability

Hiring Grads: What’s Going On? Part III

In Part I and Part II of this four-part series, we have been discussing the competing demands that business makes on the nation’s college graduates: on the one hand, hiring managers expect specialized workers to fill immediate needs; on the other hand, top executives expect independent, self-determining workers to adapt to change and take initiative.

Now we ask, Why are both groups complaining that they can’t find enough of the sort of workers they want?

Well, as far as the hiring managers go, they are demanding an impossibility. A recent report from Georgetown University reveals that in the past twenty years colleges and universities have increased spending on formal job training at almost three times the rate that business has. As Paul Fain noted recently in Inside Higher Education, the report

broke down the $1.1 trillion colleges, government agencies and employers spend each year on higher education and job training in the United States. Employers chip in the most, the report found, spending $590 billion annually to train workers.

Of that amount, $413 billion paid for informal, on-the-job training. Colleges spent $407 billion on formal training, while employers spent $177 billion. However, the academy’s rate of spending has outpaced that of employers, increasing by 82 percent since 1994 compared to 26 percent. (Italics mine.)

This increase is the result of two decades of academia’s attempting to train students in the specialties most immediately in demand by hiring managers.

But this is a fool’s errand. Many colleges cannot possibly keep up with the swift-moving currents of business. It takes time to stand up a new program. And once having hired the staff and appropriated the resources, it is difficult to stand a program down just because business has moved on. And the costs involved in trying to do up-to-date job training for business no doubt play a role in the upward march of tuition rates.

So for colleges to expect to meet the impossible demands of the hiring managers is very imprudent: they will never succeed, and they will bankrupt themselves trying.

As far as the top executives go, they are not seeing the sort of graduates they want because of changes in academia that have occurred in tandem with the move to increase spending on formal job training.

Melissa Korn wrote about this subject in the Wall Street Journal a while ago:

Colleges’ capacity to mold thinkers has been a topic of heated debate. Richard Arum, co-author of Academically Adrift and Aspiring Adults Adrift as well as an NYU sociology professor, is a prominent critic of how schools are faring on that front.

“Schools have institutionally supported and encouraged [a] retreat from academic standards and rigor,” he says, adding that he thinks colleges have allowed students to focus on their social lives at the expense of academic pursuits.

But a loss of academic standards and rigor is not the root of the problem. There are still plenty of courses that demand both.

The root of the problem is backsliding away from structured requirements for general, liberal education. Well thought-out sequences of distribution requirements or core courses have too often become a loose collection of “electives” that merely spice up a student’s major, which has become the “serious” part of college, because it is supposed to lead to a job. And the goal of landing a job has become the largely unquestioned purpose of going to college.

So top executives are not getting the sort of graduates they want because academia isn’t as serious as it once was about liberal education.

In the next and final installment of this series, we will discuss the real purpose of college, and how that meshes with what business wants and what it needs.