Jane Oates, assistant secretary for employment and training at the U.S. Department of Labor, challenged four-year universities at an economic symposium at Harper College (Illinois) to look at how their students fare job-wise after they graduate.
“If four-year colleges don’t start thinking about the occupational outcomes of their students, they are going to become dinosaurs. They are going to be out of business in the next decade,” Oates said. “We’ve seen people who take off their graduation robes, go out and try to find a job, then go back to a community college to get workforce training to become a nurse or an IT worker.”
Oates said that even in the current economy, the health care, IT and green industries are looking for trained workers—but they can’t find enough of them. She encouraged businesses and community colleges to reconnect to convey the need for more skilled workers, whether for current job openings or for emerging careers.
While I think the idea that four-year colleges will go belly-up is a bit extreme, Oates is touching on an important, if delicate subject. The question of “what college is for”—a question only asked of four-year colleges, because everyone knows community colleges exist either to get you a job or to get you into a four-year program—takes on added urgency at a time when it’s getting harder and harder for graduates to find jobs that will allow them to pay of their loans over a reasonable span of time. And those who hold an elevated view of the university are obviously wary of couching the college experience in such practical terms.
Especially until we find a way to get college costs under control, schools will have to do a better job of striking a balance here.