Paying Lip Service to STEM Isn't Enough

Remember when a college degree was the key to a rosy future? Well, B.A.s aren't opening as many doors as they used to. Nearly 6% of college grads can't find a job, and twice as many can't find a position that fits their talents. What's worse, many are buried in debt, which they can't even write off. Don't blame it on the recession or bad trade deals. Too many grads just don't have the right skills for today's businesses.

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Whose fault is this? I don't know about you, but when I entered college, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do later. Four years looked like forever. Had I not enlisted in the military after graduation, I easily could have wound up on the street with a useless degree and zero prospects. The army, however, has a way of connecting one to reality in a hurry. Not that I'm recommending universal service. Counting on the federal government for job training would not be a very bright idea.

In my opinion, higher education is letting many students down. Sure, colleges and universities are paying lip service to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), but we all know that students will tend to be drawn to philosophy, comparative religion, art history, and the rest of the liberal arts. But they'll still need practical skills, not just Physics for Poets.

I'm not suggesting that colleges become vocational schools. But don't you think they should also help young people prepare for the life they're going to be living? Nor do I want to deny students the chance to be exposed to the finer things in life.

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But guess what? Once you've landed that all-important first job and are getting a paycheck, there's time to enroll in a MOOC (massive online open course) and catch up on Plato and Picasso. Many colleges hate this idea. They believe commerce is anathema to the purity of academic life.

Too many educators haven't realized that colleges are on the verge of becoming unwieldy and inefficient. If they couldn't grant degrees, who would enroll? Suppose employers began running recruitment ads like this:

HELP WANTED

College degree irrelevant

Just tell us about your 
experience, skills, 

ambitions, and ideas

Face it: The college years should be steps on the road to success. But for many they're a waste of time. Why do you think Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out before graduating?

Why not require undergrads to choose a double major? One curriculum could appeal to their inner fancy, while the other would concentrate on practical skills. Why not replace study abroad programs with working in the U.S. internships?

I love higher education and Ohio State University, my alma mater, and Fordham University, where I teach. I'll bet everyone who reads this has a favorite. Let's be sure they don't fade away because they can't respond to the evolving needs of their most important product — students.


Sander Flaum is a principal at Flaum Navigators. 

OPINION

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