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Business Leaders Give Higher Ed a Failing Grade
While many Americans are suspicious of the culture of academia and rising tuition costs, they agree that higher education is important and should seek to better engage students in learning.
On Feb. 25, presidential candidate Rick Santorum took a swipe at President Obama’s ongoing push toward higher education while speaking to a crowd of Tea Party activists in Troy, Mich. The former Pennsylvania senator argued that Obama’s encouragement of students to go to college ignored both the reality and ambitions of those who wanted to pursue more technical careers. Santorum said: “President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob.”
While Santorum hasn’t wavered from his original objection, Obama clarified his goal two days later, stating: “When I speak about higher education, we’re not just talking about a four-year degree. We’re talking about somebody going to a community college and getting trained for that manufacturing job that is now required of somebody walking through the door, handling a million-dollar piece of equipment. They can’t go in there unless they’ve got some basic training beyond what they received in high school.”
The public appears to agree with Obama. According to independent, nonprofit organization the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, the proportion of Americans saying higher education is essential for success has roughly doubled from about 30 percent to nearly 60 percent during the last decade.
“If you want to do well in America today, you must go into the higher education institution and to a certain extent that’s frustrating for business leaders” said Steve Farkas, senior research fellow for Public Agenda, a public opinion research and public engagement organization. “The higher education system is providing a product everyone must buy — as a student you seem to have no choice — but the system is unable to adapt; [it] isn’t flexible or adjusting to changing economic realities. It’s off in its own world, unable to evolve.”
In late 2011, Farkas wrote a report based on independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy organization the Committee for Economic Development’s collaboration with Public Agenda to conduct a qualitative research effort to explore the attitudes of business leaders toward higher education. Four focus groups with 27 local business leaders were conducted in September 2011 and interviewees pointed to serious weaknesses in the country’s higher education system.
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