While I have spent recent years doing corporate training and consulting, I was once a college guy. Whenever I see a headline on higher education, it still captures my attention. Recently, the value of college education has become a target from both political sides.
From the right, none other than Ted “Cancun” Cruz has tweeted, “If you are a slacker Barista who wasted seven years studying completely useless things, now has loans and can’t get a job- Biden just gave you $20G.”
And from the other side, Bill Maher said, “It’s a giant scam. Colleges push their degrees as a golden ticket.”
Before I go on, I should note that both Cruz and Maher are graduates of Ivy League colleges.
Yes, it is true that colleges are in a competitive market and the size of the college-age going cohort group is shrinking sharply. But they are not pushing occupational education. They are in the business of higher education. The former provides skills for a specific occupation. While this is noble and skilled labor is in demand, what colleges indeed “push” is quite different.
Way back when I was a college administrator, I led a strategic planning effort that included a review of our mission statement. As part of that process, we considered mission statements from other colleges and universities and found that their intended outcomes tended to fall into three buckets: critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication.
In preparing for talks I offered both last summer and fall, I revisited the question of what colleges “push” by searching mission statements online. No surprise – nothing has changed.
In defense of colleges from which I am now removed, I would like to submit that the skills that fall into those three buckets of critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication are enduring and serve those who acquire them in any occupation they choose. This is why it is higher education.
A previous post was on the topic of loss aversion and asked readers what they would do if confronted with the dilemma we faced. We were asked by an airline to pay more to carry on our flight a Dali poster than what we paid for it. While a small sample and certainly not scientific, the principle of loss aversion held. Every respondent indicated that the emotion of losing the poster would outweigh the sheer math involved; they would pay the carry-on fee. Our solution was to consolidate our items from two bags to one and to carry on the poster in the remaining bag incurring no fee.