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Thoughts on Higher Education and Employability

Employability isn't why higher education exists. At its core, learning is about so much more than a job or a career. Higher education, in the most aspirational sense, is about self-exploration and making the world a better place.

However, it's likely that if you ask someone why they are attending a university, their answer will point towards something related to career enhancement, employability, and/or becoming eligible for employment opportunities for which they might otherwise not be qualified.

When I attended a community college, I wasn't going just to broaden my knowledge and capacity for critical thinking. When I transferred to a university to complete my degree, I wasn't just learning for the sake of learning. The credential meant everything. The diploma meant that I could apply for jobs with salaries and look at career options that had never before been an option. I love learning. I always have. However, higher education for me (and for most students then and now) was about employability.

If the world were different, if we didn't need employment in order to eat, be clothed, housed, etc., then the rhetoric of employability and higher education might be vastly different. Higher education might be about learning, thinking, synthesis, and nowhere to be found in the mix of learning would there be anything to do with employability.

Mention employability in the context of higher education and people become polarized. There are many who say that employability isn't the purpose of higher education (and they are right), but those same individuals don't adequately state that the realities of the world mean that higher education is the ticket to a career (as well as the foundational elements of Maslow's Hierarchy). Employability, for a lot of people, requires higher education.

In a world of ideals, education for everyone would be the reality. Higher education would be more about how you could learn something that would enable you to continue making things better for everyone. Until that day, employability is an important aspect (perhaps the most important) of the context of higher education. It shouldn't be the sole reason "why" people attend university, but at the moment, it is, and we have to acknowledge that in order for pragmatic change to be made.

The crux of the employability debate in higher education is this: it is far easier to say that higher education isn't about employability when you are already employed and have had a successful university experience. For most people, higher education is the key to unlocking and accessing their future career.


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