Colleges and Universities: Stewards of Knowledge or Preparers for Work?

Colleges and Universities: Stewards of Knowledge or Preparers for Work?

Many learning institutions believe that there is a disparity between a liberal arts education and the workforce education. Preparing people for work is seen as catering to industry, which has evolved a very different culture from academia. If we look historically, however, the collegia of Bologna were formed to confer degrees, which were essentially licenses to teach, to join the guild of masters. Students paid fees directly to their professors. Not until the later half of the 14th Century did Bologna start paying salaries.

Liberal arts were prerequisites to professional degrees in areas like laws, medicine or the clergy.

I am not suggesting the return to education in the model of Bologna, but that we don’t discount an integrated, holistic view of education that not only prepares people to think, but also to work. We now have hundreds of professions, all of which benefit from a liberal arts experience, but not to the exclusion of preparedness for the workplace. Would it be a bad thing for a writing class to teach all students how to write for the workplace? Would be incongruous for a history class to teach the implications of history for today’s worker.

I believe workforce readiness should be part of the core curriculum, it should be part of how we prepare all students. It should also be a deep partnership between business and education. Most students will not go into academia as a profession, they will go into the workplace, and they need to be prepared not only for reasoning and investigation, but for the everyday expectations and experiences of the workplace. And it wouldn’t be bad for professors to understand the world they are sending their students into with more intimacy and empathy. If we think about collegia as places that prepare minds of their future, we do those minds a disservice if we don’t prepare them for the entire spectrum of experiences they are likely to encounter in their future.

Daniel W. Rasmus

Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.

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