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Shaping Education With an Eye on the Workplace

Colleges and universities must shape their work with a keen eye toward the demands of the marketplace, a new study from the National Governors Association tells us.

It urges governors to "align higher education with state economic goals" by letting colleges and universities know that they're expected to contribute to their state's economic well-being by helping prepare a 21st-century workforce. Governors should create incentives for their state colleges and universities to draw on labor-market research and employers' input to help them set their priorities and to track their impact on student employment and employer satisfaction.

It boils down to this, the report says: The college-completion conversation should focus not just on getting degrees, but also on what jobs those degrees are well matched for. It discusses work in Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, and Washington state that's geared in that direction.

This sort of shift echoes discussions at the middle and high school level, as educators ask how schools can best serve a variety of students' goals and aspirations without setting expectations too low for anyone. How, for instance, should K-12 rearrange itself to serve students who aim for a prestigious four-year university, those who envision themselves at a broad-access state school, those who are exploring the options of a local community college, and those who wish to obtain certification in an occupation that doesn't require an associate's degree?

I hear some strains of these conversations in the new career and tech-ed. movement, which is anything but your grandmother's voc-ed. I also hear strains in the dialogue about a recent report from Harvard, which argued that a "college for all" orientation can deprive too many students of good training for solid jobs that require less than a bachelor's degree.

One common theme running through these discussions at the K-12 and higher-ed levels is that education ignores the needs of the marketplace at its own peril. How this squares with broad areas of study that aren't neatly linked to employment is a part of the discussion that hasn't become entirely clear yet.

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