Writing in today’s Inside Higher Education, former UW-Madison professor Ben Rifkin says that Governor Scott Walker’s plan for public education is fundamentally wrong. Rifkin currently serves as dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences as the College of New Jersey.
In a speech earlier this month, Walker said he will consider tying higher education funding to performance outcomes, including job placement after graduation:
“In higher education, that means not only degrees but our young people getting degrees in the jobs that are actually open and needed today, not just the jobs the universities want to give us or degrees that people want to give us.”
Rifkin notes that that statement is wrong on four points:
- Walker falsely assumes the state can predict which course of study is most beneficial to the state.
- By encouraging specific courses of study, the state would be responsible for picking “winner and losers” in higher education, much like Soviet-era Russia.
- The plan could hurt students, who tend to perform best when allowed to follow their passions. Students who experience success have a better transition from college to work.
- Walker misunderstands the purpose of a liberal arts education:
“We are not training students for a job. We are training students for a lifetime of jobs, for a career, and for their best job by providing them with an education that emphasizes the development of critical thinking about challenging and complex problems, creative problem-solving, effective communication in speech and writing, ethical reasoning and compassion, the ability to work with diverse partners, the skills to use technology wisely, and the foundation to participate fully in our American democracy.”