Quinnipiac University College of Arts and Sciences

What Education “Lacks”?

In Faculty, Teaching on April 18, 2012 at 12:37 am

Questions, Problems, and Resituating the Conversation about Problems in Higher Education

by Valerie SmithAssociate Professor of English

In the spirits of academic inquiry and creative thinking I would like to propose a series of questions/problems that might make interesting fodder for a stimulating, productive conversation. Although, as I am sure you will note, these are the same sorts of “problems” we are grappling with both individually and as a community here in CAS and at Quinnipiac University, I would like to open them up more broadly, situating them within a wider national/global context.

If we consider the nationwide problem concerning college-graduates “lack-of preparedness” for their futures (in relation to personal fulfillment, professional success, the national good, etc.) as a given and the historical relationship between education and socioeconomic factors (again, as a given), we might formulate a series of interesting questions. If we also take, as a given, that at least part of this problem has to do with incoming college students’ lack-of-preparedness/motivation for learning we might begin to formulate a wider, more probing series of interesting questions.

Before we begin to formulate these questions, here are some of the “problems” with today’s college graduates as identified in the AAC&U’s survey of employers (a limited and limiting perspective but at least a place to begin what I hope will be a productive conversation):

A majority of employers believe that colleges should place greater emphasis on a variety of learning outcomes developed through a liberal education, which include the following:

Knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world

  • Concepts and new developments in science and technology (70%)
  • The ability to understand the global context of situations and decisions (67%)
  • Global issues and developments and their implications for the future (65%
  • The role of the United States in the world (57%)
  • Cultural diversity in America and other countries (57%)

Intellectual and practical skills

  • The ability to communicate effectively, orally and in writing (89%)
  • Critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills (81%)
  • The ability to analyze and solve complex problems (75%)
  • Teamwork skills and the ability to collaborate with others in diverse group settings (71%)
  • The ability to innovate and be creative (70%)
  • The ability to locate, organize, and evaluate information from multiple sources (68%)
  • The ability to work with numbers and understand statistics (63%)

Personal and social responsibility

  • The ability to connect choices and actions to ethical decisions (75%)
  • Civic knowledge, civic participation, and community engagement (52%)

Integrative learning

  • The ability to apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings through internships or other hands-on experiences (79%)


Here are a few questions to begin with:

One of the ways of considering this problem might be from the perspective of determining who “benefits” from the production of the above-described “lacks.” In other words, since education is historically linked to benefitting socioeconomic structures, we might ask the following:

1.)  In general, what socioeconomic forces benefit from high-school and college-graduates’ “lack” of certain types of knowledge (as described above) and “lack” of “intellectual and practical” skills (as described above)?

2.)  If we re-word that question slightly it might become: What can we learn about our national and/or global socioeconomic structures by studying these “lacks” and the types of humans they may, by extension, produce? What opportunities for personal fulfillment exist, are encouraged, or are limited by these “lacks”? What opportunities for professional advancement exist, are encouraged, or are limited by these “lacks”? What opportunities for civic engagement (including voting, rallying for changes, etc.) exist, are encouraged, or are limited by these “lacks”?

3.)  How do our systems of government benefit or suffer due to these “lacks”?

4.)  How do our economic systems benefit or suffer due to these “lacks”?

5.)  How do the national and international communities benefit or suffer due to these “lacks”?

6.)  What structural factors seem to work to promote the continuation of this problem?

7.)  What structural factors seem to work to address the continuation of this problem?

8.)  What additional perspectives can we bring to bear on this problem?

9.)  What additional resources can we use to further investigate this problem?

10.)  Are we, as a community, interested in engaging in a conversation about this larger problem? If so, how might we best facilitate it? Blackboard? Face-to-face discussions? Bringing in speakers, etc.?

11.)  What additional questions should we be asking?


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