- Wednesday, December 11th, 2013
By Dr. John Anderson for the Patriot-News
Recently, in my inauguration remarks, I reflected on the public good engendered through public institutions of higher education. I also expressed my belief that we, the leaders of higher education institutions, have failed to adequately frame our case for support. I believe this is particularly so for institutions that value and infuse their students’ educational experience with a core curriculum enriched by the liberal arts.
Our primary failure has been our inability to connect the dots between the outcomes of an educational experience rooted in the liberal arts and career-related expectations of parents and students. At the same time, there is a perceived paradox between the call for more “workforce degrees” from those who oversee the funding of public institutions and the very employers who hire our graduates, including those employers in fields such as advanced manufacturing, nanotechnology and health sciences.
As a new president traveling around the Commonwealth, the message is the same one that I have heard from employers in other states. We need an educated workforce that can adapt to the changing social, political, economic and business environments that ultimately sustain a business’s competitiveness as it navigates dramatic changes in product enhancement and market conditions.
Meeting the Commonwealth’s and our nation’s long-term employment needs is not in opposition to higher education’s central value-added outcome of producing graduates who have the necessary analytical, computational, and communication skills to be life-long learners and productive professionals who are also globally-aware, engaged citizens. These goals and public purposes are not mutually exclusive.
As higher education leaders and advocates, however, we simply cannot ignore the fact that year after year the almanac issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education publishes UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute’s freshmen profiles, listing the reasons freshmen consider very important for attending college.
The reason most cited by students is the ability to get a better job. This is no surprise; it is a reality. And institutions of higher education place themselves in peril if they continue to ignore how inadequately we have framed our role in everyday language—language that resonates with the public, policy shapers and legislators who influence and/or set the policies and control many of the resources shaping our destiny.
In a very real sense, reframing our message is a transformational prerequisite to changing public opinion. We also need to rethink how we deliver our educational experience.
We live in a credentialing society. Admittedly, the traditional baccalaureate major is the standard for career entry (and increasingly in some fields a graduate degree). Well-established criteria for graduation, and often accreditation standards, affirm this credential upon graduation. This is the ticket for entry into the field and is rarely a concern among our employers. What I do hear is of greater interest among employers is that our students have a much deeper understanding, appreciation and competency in a broader range of subject areas.
Like most universities, Millersville is fortunate to have a faculty dedicated to the role of liberal arts in today’s society no matter what their discipline. In addition, we are finding that more and more students are taking a multidisciplinary approach to their education. Our new multidisciplinary studies and our entrepreneurship minor are rapidly growing—a trend I think we will see continuing in response to students seeking to prepare themselves through a broader educational experience. Connecting our institutions with the needs of society, whether it is investigating climate change or working with children with disabilities, is a result of dedicated faculty and the students they inspire, motivate, support and challenge.
Faculty propel our students headlong into the foundational underpinnings of liberal arts education. In turn, our students have educational experiences through which they are more likely to be civically-engaged, globally-aware problem solvers, more conscientious stewards of the planet, and better partners in sustaining the pursuit of happiness and quality of life for generations to come.
Let us anew stake out the real value of the liberal arts by more articulately portraying how the arts and humanities integrate with science, math and communications. At Millersville, and elsewhere, we must demonstrate how this integrated curriculum produces graduates who are job ready and can advance professionally since they are adept at analyzing complex situations; who promote social justice and a sustainable world; and who can develop, communicate and implement strategies to solve problems and creatively discover new products and processes that improve the quality of life locally, within the Commonwealth, and globally.
John Anderson is the new president of Millersville University in Lancaster County.
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