The Sunday September 26, 2010 edition of Newsday had the following front page headline, “ L[ong] I[sland] Colleges Change Course Major Push for Jobs How Schools Have Reshaped their Mission.” This headline which covered the entire first page also had a background of a graduation cap and tassel. The focus of the article was how colleges “have been shaking up curricula, adding job-friendly courses and majors- all meant to ensure that graduates don’t end up jobless….” The subtext of the article, summarized well in a quote from a local college administrator, was the determination “to provide a relevant education to all students,” which certainly suggests what has been happening up to now has not been relevant.
We all want our graduates to end up with the jobs of their choice but have we been the cause of joblessness among college graduates because of a lack of relevancy? I don’t think so. I spent most of the 1980’s serving as the Dean of Hofstra’s Business School and I also spent a year serving as Interim Dean of the Hofstra School of Education. In business and in education, we had a whole array of programs that were relevant and designed to help students successfully prepare for careers ranging from accounting to marketing; from administration to teaching. We have even more such programs today. In the arts and sciences, the majors were equally relevant then and today, including areas such as computer science, communication, engineering, math, music, and writing/English. My major was economics which prepared you well not only for graduate school but also for careers in finance and business in general. We can certainly do more but is the relevance of our education the real issue?
Higher education is not and should not be focused only on a first job but on a lifetime. We strive to educate critical thinkers. Remember, even those majors considered most “relevant” may not be the area where our graduates ultimately end up working. Critical thinking, therefore, is key in adjusting to changes, including a changing world. We also strive to educate an informed public. We strive to continuously strengthen the foundations of our society. We strive to promote understanding and respect. Is that not relevant?
If you are constrained by an economy struggling to recover from a major recession and having trouble doing so, job opportunities will be a real issue. As the economy recovers, and we know this won’t be immediate, job opportunities will increase accordingly. We all have a responsibility to continuously enhance the education we provide and we can certainly do much more. But what is most relevant for our overall jobs picture is the economy and the need for further economic stimulation. As we look to be relevant, we shouldn’t underestimate the relevance of our national leaders in resolving a difficult situation.