Education for the Masses: Job Training vs. Knowledge

Should job training or pursuing knowledge be the purpose of education? Experts on both sides of the debate make valid and thought-provoking arguments.

For today’s young people, the question isn’t whether or not to get a college education, but why to get a college education. As the job market continues to shift from blue-collar labor to white-collar office, health and technology jobs, some college training may be necessary to land a decent paying job. But is the lure of lucrative employment the only reason to earn a college degree? That depends on whom you ask.

Citizens, not Workers

Proponents of education for knowledge’s sake feel that higher education serves to create well-rounded, thoughtful citizens. They argue that the disciplines are all inter-related and that the study of two seemingly disparate fields can enhance a student’s understanding of both. Experts in this camp put forth that the role of higher education is not to produce workers; upon entering the workforce, employees typically undergo training specific to their role, anyway. The most important thing a college education should do is build a strong foundation of understanding that draws from and connects the core content areas. That’s well and good, but college is expensive. It’s not realistic to expect all citizens to be able to afford a bachelor’s degree. Whether or not the cost of higher education is justified is a separate debate, but the fact that it is costly does factor into this discussion.

College student on computerThe Expense Argument

A popular defense of higher education as vocational training relates to the cost of education. It makes sense, right? If college is expensive, graduates should be rewarded with gainful employment to offset their financial sacrifice and to pay back the student debt they incurred. But opponents of this school of thought could argue that finding a job should be a side effect of obtaining a solid liberal arts education; the goal is to become a more enlightened person with written and oral communication and critical thinking skills. Those skills can then lead to success in nearly any job environment. Yes, everyone wants a job after college, and a college degree can certainly help you get a better-paying job. However, there’s more to college than learning technical and vocational skills. That “something more” may very well be what lands you the position, because the image of the ideal American worker is changing.

Where the Jobs Are

As the baby boomers begin to retire, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how many workers in each profession will be needed in the coming years. We do know that growth has predominately been in the business, health care and technology industries, just as it is easy to see that factory jobs and traditional blue-collar employment are drying up. Outsourcing and advancements in technology are changing the American labor force. In fact, technology changes so quickly that certain skills can quickly become outdated.

For this reason, among others, employers value workers with soft skills who can think on their feet, solve problems and communicate efficiently. Graduates of a liberal arts program are more likely to have honed these increasingly crucial skills.

So, if employers want soft skills as opposed to trained workers, and a liberal arts degree imparts the soft skills that can help graduates find employment, doesn’t that mean a liberal arts degree is vocational training? That’s exactly the kind of question critical-thinking liberal arts graduates can answer for themselves.

For information on liberal arts programs available to you, visit Brescia University Online.

Established in 1950, Brescia University is a Catholic, liberal arts institution founded in the Ursuline tradition of personal and social transformation through education. With the advent of BUOnline, Brescia brings accredited undergraduate and graduate programs to students across the nation. Brescia’s commitment to a student-centered environment rewards students who seek success through meaningful careers and service to others.