By John Hamerlinck and Julie Plaut
We are in the business of promoting the public purposes of higher education. As a result, we may have downplayed the connections civic engagement has to career and workforce development, perhaps out of a sense that they represented a focus on personal gain — or on preparing students to fit into the world as it is, rather than encouraging critical thinking and creative action. Yet these goals are not mutually exclusive; they actually complement and enhance each other in countless ways.
Many employers are looking to hire people who possess not only technical skills, but who also can communicate and collaborate effectively within a diverse environment, solve problems creatively, and understand the importance of ethical behavior. These skills and characteristics remain with workers across multiple career changes, and they are taught effectively through service-learning and other forms of deliberate civic and community engagement. We are not alone in recognizing the value of an engaged education; among the recommendations that emerged from MnSCU leaders’ visits with 352 companies in Minnesota to learn how the system could better work with businesses to enhance the prosperity and quality of life of the state’s residents: “expand educational offerings to include more experience-based learning.”
Everybody wants graduates to get jobs. We also depend on educated people to help create the jobs – even the industries – that don’t exist today. In an article commenting on a similarly unnecessarily dualistic debate regarding the value of Liberal Arts as opposed to academic disciplines more closely associated with jobs and profits, Martha C. Nussbaum asserts, “a flourishing economy requires the same skills that support citizenship” (“The Liberal Arts Are Not Elitist,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 28, 2010). The human-development framework for economic development to which she subscribes also requires attention to the kinds of social and political issues usually addressed through civic engagement.
Minnesota Campus Compact institutions, like their peers nationwide, are increasingly identifying student learning or development goals that cross the lines of various academic and co-curricular programs. Despite the differences grounded in specific institutional cultures and contexts, there is probably significant overlap. What is our common vision for college graduates? Our members approved the Engaged Campus Vision a decade ago. As we all pay closer attention to outcomes, it’s time to craft our vision of student development as well. Share your two cents today!