One needs look no further than the White House to gauge the level of national interest in building a highly skilled workforce. President Obama has placed an intense focus on doubling college graduation rates and increasing science, math, and engineering majors. There is little argument among policymakers and employers alike that the health of the nation's economy depends on increasing the pool of skilled job candidates.
How we get there is a different question, one that will be explored on Thursday as a "Job One" part of NBC's "Education Nation Experience." Meanwhile, educators and business leaders will convene on Monday at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to discuss how innovations from the private sector can transform higher education and "conventional barriers" within the industry.
They might want to look at a new survey from the Pew Research Center surveying both the general public and college presidents on their attitudes about college. More than half of people in the general public (57 percent) say the country's higher education system fails to provide good value for the money. Yet the public seems to agree that a college degree is worth about $20,000 a year, on average. Both the general public and college presidents are split evenly on the main purpose of college, with about half saying the main goal is to teach work-related skills and the rest saying the main goal is to help students grow personally and intellectually.
What is the goal of college? Is it worth the price? Has higher education fulfilled its duty if it simply helps students grow, or should schools be accountable for the students' future employment? Should the expectations for college change depending on who pays for it? What, if any, role should the business community play in shaping college programs? Are there new models for higher education that need to be explored?