Imperiling Student Success

Here is a thoughtful opinion piece titled, “I studied computer science, not English. I still can’t find a job.” The upshot is that college and university professors teach what they know, and if all they know is theory then they cannot convey practice to students. The hiring process in most college and universities strongly favors hiring professors with deep theoretical knowledge and strongly disfavors hiring academically qualified candidates with both theoretical knowledge and deep practical knowledge.

Undergraduate students, in particular, pay the price for this long out-dated view of faculty qualifications (it used to be the other way around as recently as the 1960s). It did not hurt new graduates when corporations wanted well-educated people and would train them as-needed. Like it or not, corporations now want well-educated people who also possess practical knowledge that they no longer feel the need to pay for.

Irrespective of what corporations want, students want a more practical education, even in the practical disciplines such as engineering, science, and technology. The inability to convey practical knowledge harms students and puts them at risk, despite all the talk from administrators and faculty that students matter most.

Couple that with another opinion piece titled, “In corporations, it’s owner-take-all.” It informs us that in the past, and likely for some time into the future, corporations will continue to distribute as much money as possible to shareholders, make investments that favor shareholder’s short-term interests, and also reduce the cost of labor by minimizing hiring and tightly controlling wage and benefits costs. This means that corporations expect different capabilities from new college and university graduates if they are to hire them.

The process for hiring faculty is time consuming, so this path, though necessary and in great need of improvement, can help the correct the problem over the long term. To reduce the risk to students now, faculty should find new and better ways to connect the subject matter to the real world and add greater emphasis to teaching things that are practical. Industry advisory board can help identify, but one must be careful. Often, industry advisory boards ask for things they don’t truly want or need, or do poorly themselves and have no intention of improving.

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