In yesterday’s post, I expressed skepticism that Virginia’s system of education and job training (like that of the nation as a whole) is equipped to provide Virginia’s workforce with the skills required for employment today. Skills, I conjectured, are obsolescing faster than educators and job trainers can keep up. One reason for that, I suggested, is that funding streams are dominated either by fractured and overlapping government-funded job training programs, which by their nature are unresponsive to the marketplace, or by colleges and universities with their own institutional imperatives.
What did I mean by “institutional imperatives”? An article in Charlottesville’s Daily Progress yesterday sheds some light in a discussion of two of Virginia’s elite educational institutions, the University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary.
As described by reporter Derek Quizon, the great challenge of UVa and W&M is balancing increasing costs, decreased state funding and a push to retain top faculty. Those are essentially the same priorities, I might add, of every university, public or private, although less renowned institutions may lack the resources to recruit star faculty.
Judging from the reporting in Quizon’s article, cutting costs does not appear to be a major preoccupation of either UVa or W&M. The focus is how to increase tuition revenue while meeting the goal of making college affordable to everyone, including lower-income students. The solution: Jack up tuition, siphon a fraction of the revenue into student aid, and squeeze harder those students whose families can afford to pay.
In institutions whose bottom line is prestige, not profits, no one is talking about dialing back the recruitment of star faculty. No one is talking about rolling back administrative overhead. No one is talking about disrupting the educational marketplace through online learning. Strategic plans are forged in response to the demands of internal constituencies, not to the demands of the labor market.
What’s true of major universities is not necessarily true of all colleges within those universities — engineering and business schools, I suspect, stay in close touch with businesses that hire their grads — and probably not true at all of community colleges, which remain focused on equipping their students with specific skills needed in the workplace.
But for the most part colleges and universities seem to be floating in a bubble high above the grubby concerns of the business world that that pays the taxes and creates the wealth in our society. If we’re looking for structural change in how citizens acquire the skills that make them employable, don’t look for that change to be led by our elite educational institutions. The change we need will have to come from somewhere else.