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Technical or Cultural Courses? Students Need Both

Morton Schapiro, president of Northwestern University, argues that preparing students for entry into the workforce requires a combination of "technical expertise and cultural competency."

In a commentary for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Schapiro and co-author Barry Glassner write, "Graduates will need both of those to thrive, not just early in their work lives, but over the long, unsteady haul they can expect to face."

Most people change jobs, and sometimes professions, multiple times before they retire, Schapiro says, and to give students everything they need, "higher education must become appreciably more interdisciplinary."

"There is nothing wrong, and much right, in having a history department and a computer-science department," Schapiro writes. "Too often, though, departments become compartments in which professors and students speak primarily with each other, in vocabulary known only to themselves, thereby making integrative research and instruction impossible.

"Not only do big issues, like climate change and economic mobility, demand knowledge across disciplines, students require cross-disciplinary educations for almost every line of work," he continues. "Colleges should hire professors with joint appointments in two or more departments, and encourage students to take double majors, one of which is far outside their main field of study."

In addition to book learning and specialized training, students need creativity, Schapiro adds. Students in every major should take a class or two in improvisational acting, creative writing, or drawing.

"Being proficient at writing code or any other technical skill will take you only so far in an evolving labor market," he writes. "The fix for higher education is neither to turn colleges into quasi trade schools, nor to repackage the liberal arts, but to afford students the tools and humility they need to educate themselves for a lifetime."

Read the full article.