Jobs Change but Value of Education Endures
Among the many things I enjoy about my work as president of Ohio Wesleyan is the opportunity several times a year to visit with prospective students and their parents. I often begin these conversations by asking the students two questions:
“If you can imagine 25 years after your college graduation, how many of you will be in jobs that exist today?” The answer to that question is “some.” New jobs are created every day, and many of the jobs our graduates hold today did not exist 25 years ago. But then I ask, “If you can imagine 25 years after your college graduation, how many of you will be in jobs that utilize exclusively knowledge and technologies that exist today?” And of course the answer to that question is “none.” By some accounts, knowledge now doubles annually. Technologies change daily.
This for me points to the abiding benefit of a liberal arts education. While we care about the knowledge our students acquire, the more important benefit of their education is the way it cultivates capacities for lifelong learning and for leadership in a rapidly changing world. These capacities include critical and analytical thinking, the ability to communicate persuasively in written and oral form, the ability to work in teams to develop innovative solutions to complex problems, the ability to explore big problems from the perspective of multiple disciplines, empathy and the ability to work with individuals from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, and a moral compass to do things in an ethical way. These are the hallmarks of an education that prepares graduates for a lifetime of accomplishment and fulfillment, regardless of their area of professional interest.
When corporate CEOs were asked by the Association of American Colleges & Universities’ Liberal Education & America’s Promise program what they valued most in recent college graduates they would like to hire, the answers included the following:
- Nearly all employers surveyed (95 percent) say they give hiring preference to college graduates with skills that will enable them to contribute to innovation in the workplace.
- Nearly all those surveyed (93 percent) say that “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than (a candidate’s) undergraduate major.”
- More than 9 in 10 of those surveyed say it is important that those they hire demonstrate ethical judgment and integrity, intercultural skills, and the capacity for continued new learning.
- More than 75% of employers say they want more emphasis on key areas, including: critical thinking, complex problem-solving, written and oral communication, and applied knowledge in real-world settings.
- 80 percent of employers agree that, regardless of their major, all college students should acquire broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences.
It’s hard to fathom today what members of the Class of 2017 will be doing professionally when OWU celebrates its bicentennial in 2042. But I am confident that with the benefits of a liberal arts education that connects rigorous classroom education with robust practical real-world experiences, our graduates are ready for the world that awaits them.
When the class that graduated in 1992 gathered for its 25-year reunion in the spring, members of the class were given letters they wrote to themselves on the occasion of their graduation 25 years ago. The letters had been sealed for a quarter of a century until they were opened, one by one, as the class gathered back on campus. The letters serve as a reminder of how much can change in 25 years.
You can read the story of those letters in this issue of the magazine. As you read these stories, I invite you to think about the timeless benefit of the education offered at OWU. At OWU, the enduring values of a liberal arts education continue to prepare graduates for lives of leadership and service in every sector of our society. I am grateful for your role in sustaining this legacy.
President, Ohio Wesleyan University