John M. Eger – Huffington Post

Lionel Van Deerlin Professor of Communications and Public Policy,
San Diego State

Posted: March 11, 2011 10:49 AM

Just look at the college catalog — any college — and you will soon discover that more than half of the courses added in the last twenty years boast how “cutting edge” they are. But often, they don’t replace anything. In other words we keep adding to the curriculum making it even more confusing for the student, and making it even more difficult to get out in four years.

In fact, in the CSU — Californian State University — system, the average stay is about six years.

We need to seriously rethink the university curriculum, and literally reinvent it. For starters, we should eliminate all the colleges, all majors and degree programs, and rethink the entire curriculum.

Call it zero-based (education) budgeting.

What do our graduates need to know and why in this new global technology driven world?

The Chronicle of Higher Education, an academic journal covering post-secondary education in the United States, recently raised the question of whether university majors are “silos” inhibiting learning.

I believe that silos are one of the reasons that administrators and faculty have such a difficult time making changes that count. Further, the university majors that exist today are not necessarily job related. Indeed, we all know, a degree of any kind is no guarantee of a job.

What is important is that young people “learn how to learn” (acquire genuine thinking skills) in college and, if possible, find out what they can be passionate about.

A few years ago the U.S. Department of Labor predicted that people will “have 10 to 14 jobs by age 38.” At the time, former Education Secretary Riley, said that “the top 10 jobs that will be in demand (don’t yet exist) and they will be using technologies that haven’t been invented. In order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”

With the proliferation of the Internet, the computerization of news archives and libraries available on the World Wide Web, literally thousands of references are available at the click of a mouse. Though the job market is in tremendous flux, given the advent of globalization, the challenge today is not acquiring information; it is determining which information is relevant.

In an age where we are discovering that everything is connected to everything else, what we really need to do is create the interdisciplinary curriculum that emphasizes the new economy, the role of technology and the spirit of enterprise — specifically creativity and innovation.

Given the painful cuts in education our systems faces, only radical solutions will meet the challenges before us. American universities are one of this nation’s greatest assets.

We know that the worldwide financial meltdown has gutted the job market. But it can and will get a lot worse. More and more more of our young folks earn a coveted degree from one of America’s great universities, graduate and are unable to find a job. Clearly, unless we drastically change, our young people are doomed to an uncertain future.

Universities must lead the way.

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