Education as Workforce Development: The Horror

Scott Walker: We don't need no higher education (photo courtesy of Slate)

Scott Walker: We don’t need no higher education (photo courtesy of Slate)

W.J. Astore

A strong trend in higher education today is to sell education as workforce development.  I saw this at the college where I used to teach, which was unsurprising given that the college started as a technical institute in a conservative area.  My college proudly advertised itself as valuing partnerships with business and industry, with a “learn to earn” emphasis, so students and parents knew what they were getting when they made their choice.

But the “education as workforce development” ethos is now spreading to universities and states like Wisconsin, driven by Republican governors and administrations keen to put those pointy-headed intellectuals, with their high-falutin’ ideas about education as a pursuit of truth, firmly in their place.  Consider this article at Alternet, and the following passage about Governor Scott Walker’s ideological war on higher education in his state:

Scott Walker has it out for the University of Wisconsin. The University of Wisconsin is a point of pride for the state at large, to the point where their mascot, the badger, is blanketed over everything Wisconsin-related, including government services that aren’t affiliated with the school. Despite this, Gov. Scott Walker, flushwith confidence after decimating public service unions in Wisconsin, has it out now for the university, apparently not caring that it’s the state’s pride and joy. The goal is to slash a whopping $300 million from the University of Wisconsin system over the next two years.

There may be some lip-smacking about “fiscal conservatism” going on with this, but Walker and his staff haven’t really taken many pains to hide that this is rooted in a deeper hostility to the very idea of knowledge itself. “A harbinger of what Walker might face came in an immediate uproar on social media this month after his staff proposed changing the university’s ethereal focus on the pursuit of truth, known as the ‘Wisconsin Idea,’ to a grittier focus on ‘workforce needs,’” reports theWashington Post. Walker backed off recasting higher education as nothing more than job training after his critics pointed out he is a college dropout, but the fact that this wording change was proposed at all shows that the hostility to education is ideological and has little to nothing to do with saving money.”

Higher education should be dedicated to something higher than the pursuit of a job that serves corporate America.  Heck, even corporate America favors the liberal arts as being invaluable to their bottom line, e.g. in the sense of “soft” skills such as the ability to write and speak clearly, collaborating as a team, fostering creativity and curiosity, and the like.  And this is supported by research, as in this report by the Association of American Colleges & Universities, which “is seriously questioning the drive to turn schools into institutions where the primary mission is offering career and vocational training,” according to a CBS News report:

The report, which was released today, concludes that employers “overwhelmingly” endorse broad learning as the best preparation for long-term career success. Employers who were surveyed for the study said that this broad learning should be an expected part of the course work for all students, regardless of their chosen major or field of study.

More than three out of four employers agreed that every college student should be exposed to the liberal arts and sciences, and employers were nearly unanimous (96 percent) in agreeing that all students should gain knowledge of our democratic institutions, which is done through liberal arts courses.”


So, if employers are in favor of liberal arts and the sciences, why are right-wing conservatives like Walker against these subjects?  To ask the question is to answer it.  The push for “workforce development” is all about silencing liberal dissent and squelching critical research.  It’s anti-intellectualism, pure and simple, always a popular trope in America, as Richard Hofstadter noted in his classic book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life.

Keep ’em dumb and obedient, Walker.  Time-servers in the work trenches.  That’s the way to serve Wisconsin as governor.  Next stop: the presidency.  We don’t need any smart people in that job.  No more Jeffersons need apply.  Right, America?

11 thoughts on “Education as Workforce Development: The Horror

    • Thanks. I remember reading Chomsky’s critique. There’s truth here, especially about crushing student debt as a way to crush dissent. Also the point about adjunct faculty and their low pay and benefits and the potentially transitory nature of their jobs. Again, hard to risk challenging those in authority when they can just fire your ass. Tenure — what’s that?

  1. Looming resource scarcity will cause planetary societal unrest within a decade, regional chaos within two, and the more tractable the average individual, the easier for police and other force agencies to suppress violent reactions to horrific conditions. The pathological Walker is a uniquely qualified “leader”, carefully selected, groomed, and advantageously situated to be a spearhead for Americans’ transition to a population amenable to 21st century harsh environmental realities and lives ruled by neo-feudal authoritarian corporate control.

  2. Reblogged this on The Secular Jurist and commented:
    “So, if employers are in favor of liberal arts and the sciences, why are right-wing conservatives like Walker against these subjects? To ask the question is to answer it. The push for “workforce development” is all about silencing liberal dissent and squelching critical research. It’s anti-intellectualism, pure and simple…” – Excellent editorial, which I highly recommend.

  3. Pingback: Education as Workforce Development: The Horror | Mindfire Cantata

  4. From what I’ve seen of America’s college grads (me? I dropped out after one lousy semester, in early 1967!), the effort to create well-rounded individuals who can actually speak, “rede and spel gud” hasn’t been going too terrifically well…for a long time now! Except for the deluded few who actually hope to make a living wage with a Masters in American Literature or what have you (you know, your local baristas at Starbucks, as stand-up comics would put it), does anyone doubt the perceived value of a college education is, indeed, to maximize future income earning potential? So maybe we should streamline the universities into technical-vocational schools with greatly slashed tuition?? There’s an idea for you! Now, Gov. Walker, of course, is of the ideological school that invented the phrase/concept “Politically Correct,” asserting that 95% of America’s college professors are flaming Marxists!! [How about you, Astore? You in the 5% minority? :-)] This is why I personally refuse to even use the phrase “Politically Correct” or simply “PC.” It is strictly a rightwing invention.

  5. A few quotes to think about regarding education:
    “Students, …, no longer attend college to acquire learning and virtue, but to obtain those qualifications which will enable them to grow rich.” John B. Glubb in The Fate of Empires – a characteristic of a decaying empire
    When I think back on all the crap I’ve learned in high school
    It’s a wonder I can think at all …
    Paul Simon (fm Kodachrome a popular song)
    “There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.” Will Rogers — I’ll argue that many of ‘the rest of them’ don’t learn even when they ‘pee on the electric fence’ …
    Personally I agree with Albert Einstein – “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”
    Another ‘education’ issue: Are ‘Student loans’ the type of Debt bondage, common in modern America?
    (A modern variant of debt bondage is personal installment debt. In a monetized economy, were wealth need not be created by labor, a worker need not be bound to a given employer or occupation, but rather to an income stream to service the debt. The ‘capitalist’/’creditor’/’rentier’ thus receives money payments on the debt in lieu of labor.)

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