Guest Column from Dr. Steven Specht: Job training

A sign facing out of Dr. Spechts office window.

A sign facing out of Dr. Specht’s office window.

Job training isn’t higher ed

I have a sign facing out of my office window which reads “Job Training ≠ Higher Education.” I believe very strongly in the message I am attempting to convey. For folks who might not understand the message, or who erroneously feel that I am somehow slighting job training, I would like to explain.

First of all, I am certainly not “anti-job training.” That’s explicitly not what the sign states. I fully realize how important securing gainful employment is in this country, and in our turbulent economy. I want all of my students to eventually be employed in satisfying jobs and have happy lives. My primary point is that job-training is not the same as higher education (hence the “≠” symbol). If one is interested in obtaining job training for employment, it seems to me that there are better ways to do that, than to go into debt for upwards of $60K (tuition costs).

I think it is wise for students and their parents to consider the distinction between job training and higher education — they are not mutually exclusive either. One of my best friends does not have a college degree and did not go into tuition debt; yet he makes $50K more than I do annually, and I have a Ph.D. and 30+ years of experience in the field. Another of my friends has a beautiful house and a lovely family, and also does not have a college degree (he’s a union electrician). I not only value their friendship, but I fully respect the talents that they have (that I don’t have).

The point here is that there are many avenues to success, and many ways that individuals can contribute positively to society. They should all be respected.

Colleges and universities used to be places where one could learn about lots of “stuff” that is not readily “marketable” or directly related to training for a job (like philosophy, art history, anthropology, and geology).

If one were interested in getting a higher education, it typically involved learning about these things. But that kind of education is not of interest, or useful, for everyone. Vocational, or technical job training is valuable and admirable, but it has been historically (and rightly so) different than “higher education.”

In my opinion, institutions of higher education should not be transforming into job training institutions simply to chase the tuition dollars from students (and parents) who have been led to believe that a college education is the only way to succeed in life. In fact, my sign suggests that if one wants job training, one might consider something other than a college or university education. And if institutions of higher education drastically change the nature of what they offer to garner tuition dollars, society will once again be left with a situation in which higher education is only available at institutions which are far less accessible to the average citizen. Higher education will, once again, become only accessible to the “elite.” What I fear is that the train has already left the station.

Job training is valuable and admirable. Higher education is valuable and admirable. And even though they may share some overlap in a Venn diagram, they are not the same. That is the point of my sign. I think such a distinction is valuable, in order to stimulate thought and discussion. My intention was not to minimize, devalue or slight either enterprise.