Florida Governor Rick Scott caused quite a stir last month in academic circles by indicating that he would fund higher education programs in Florida based upon the employability of the graduates of such programs. Paraphrasing Gov. Scott, he basically said that he wanted state money to go to degree programs where people can get jobs in his state. His statements caught particular attention in that he highlighted the lack of need of anthropologists, while his daughter, ironically, has an undergraduate anthropology degree. Gov. Scott and his representatives maintain that he was not condemning the social sciences, but rather wanted to highlight the demand for college graduates with science, technology, engineering and math degrees.
As an educator in KSU’s Coles College of Business, I don’t necessarily disagree with Gov. Scott’s big picture of higher education. However, I do think he could be heading down a slippery slope. Limiting funding for liberal arts and social science programs can lead to limiting funding to those areas period, which would be problematic. Education, particularly higher education, is very different than training. Training prepares one for his or her current job or next job, while education is meant to last a lifetime. Higher education is not meant to just prepare students for their first job after graduation. Institutions of higher education require courses in composition and social sciences in all of their undergraduate academic programs to help develop the students’ ability to think critically and communicate, which the students will use throughout their work life. For instance, even Georgia Tech (known by some as the “North Avenue Trade School” and of which I am a proud alumnus) requires such courses for all of their undergraduate engineering majors. In addition, higher education in these areas prepares students broadly for careers they did not anticipate when in college. While higher education should produce employable graduates, it is also responsible for a well-educated citizenry that can contribute to society and the nation in many ways.
So I caution Gov. Scott and others who have similar ideas about higher education not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater”, particularly if he is going to endorse Mitt Romney (BA in English) or Newt Gingrich (BA in History) for President.