December 7, 2006

Whoops! We undermined it again

This morning's Inside Higher Education edition has a Scott Jaschik article reporting on an American Council on Education-commissioned poll on American attitudes about higher education (PDF). There are at least two major findings, one that the poll report by consultant The Winston Group highlighted: U.S. residents now believe that the primary motivation for companies' shifting operations overseas is because of cheap labor, not because of greater skills (i.e., the educational attainment in other countries). As Jaschik notes, "it seems that call centers in developing nations have made more of an impact on the public than have Ph.D.'s from those countries."

The finding that Jaschik finds buried at the end of the report is equally important: a clear majority (64%) of those polled see the primary purpose of a college education as "get[ting] a good job after graduation" (from the report). This confirms in a very concrete way the sense of historians and sociologists that human-capital rhetoric has colonized the consciousness of most people about the purpose of education... but it's probably less a matter of creating ideas than solidifying what David Labaree has argued is an historical tendency for the individual-mobility purposes of education to undermine collective goals.

This focus on individual mobility—the private purposes of education—has trumped education reform rhetoric that focuses on human capital from a collective standpoint—"We must reform so we can be competitive!" Students and their parents are skeptical of the human-capital arguments in a global sense and more worried about local competition in a job market, what Lester Thurow and others have called the queueing consequences of education.

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Posted in Education policy on December 7, 2006 7:15 AM |