Career Preparation and/or Liberal Learning

It is unfortunate that in the current debates about the purpose and value of a college education, career preparation and liberal learning are often seen as mutually exclusive.

As a chief academic officer, I am convinced that higher education institutions generally and we at FSU must be very serious about preparing our graduates for careers. Career preparation, as I understand it, entails preparing our graduates for meaningful work – work that is personally fulfilling and enables one to meet basic economic needs. And meaningful work is an essential component of happiness and well-being.

Moreover, in the wake of dramatic increases in the cost of higher education and student debt, which has eclipsed all form of debt in America except for home mortgages, it is understandable for students and their families to be concerned about the career options that a degree or specific major will open up for them.

As convinced as I am that career preparation is an important goal of higher education, I am equally convinced that defining higher education exclusively in terms of career preparation greatly diminishes the goals and purposes of a university degree.

Liberal learning – with its emphasis on thinking, writing, speaking, using numbers, understanding the natural and cultural forces that shape our world, and other related skills and knowledge – is essential to preparing our graduates for the ever-changing demands of professions and citizenship.

I am very grateful to the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) for its advocacy of liberal learning.

What else? What other goals do we have for our graduates? If career preparation and liberal learning are important outcomes of a university education, what other goals do we have for our graduates? What impact would we hope to have on the lives of our graduates five, ten, and twenty years after they graduate?

In the upcoming semester, I hope to work with others to launch campus-wide discussions intended to answer these and related questions.

In answering these questions it will not be enough to define these outcomes. We must make sure that we are providing educational experiences that lead to them. And, we must have strategies for assessing our success. I recognize the difficult of assessing outcomes five, ten, and twenty years after graduation, but we must tackle this challenge if we seek to make sure that we are providing the quality educational experience that has a positive lifelong impact on our graduates.