Rick Haglund: Universities Should Offer More Than Degree Programs That Simply Fit Today's Job Market

Rick Haglund: Universities Should Offer More Than Degree Programs That Simply Fit Today's Job Market

June 17, 2013/Mlive


By Rick Haglund


Universities are coming under fire for offering degree programs in which graduates have little likelihood of finding good-paying jobs, or finding jobs at all.


Forbes magazine and others have recently published lists of the least valuable college majors that include anthropology, fine arts, philosophy and religious studies and music.


There has been some talk in Lansing that Michigan universities should dump some of these programs and if they don’t, the Legislature should threaten to withhold funding from them.


Universities say they are sensitive to the needs of the jobs market.


Grand Valley State University, for instance, dropped its bachelor of arts engineering program in favor of its bachelor of science program that is preferred by employers, said spokesman Matt McLogan.


The university also is constructing a $55 million Science Laboratory Building to support degree programs in high-demand science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.


Grand Valley has boosted enrollment in its engineering programs by more than 40 percent over the past six years.

Michigan college graduates are increasingly creating their own jobs, even though they may have graduated with degrees in low-demand fields.


A study released last month found that nearly one of every five graduates of the state’s three largest research universities has started at least one business.


About half of those businesses were started or acquired in Michigan and had a five-year success rate of 50 percent about the national rate for new businesses.


The survey found that the graduates were most likely to start a business if they had degrees in business, the arts, communication, computer and information sciences, architecture or law.


Those who graduated from the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University since 1996 have started businesses at nearly double the national rate.


The survey was conducted by the University Research Corridor, an alliance of the three universities. It was based on 40,000 responses from the universities’ 1.2 million graduates.


“That’s remarkable,” said Rob Fowler, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan. “Most of those who started business were not MBAs. There were art majors who started galleries and liberal arts majors who started consulting businesses.”


Most of these entrepreneurs started businesses outside their major areas of study, suggesting that the universities are “preparing graduates with a broad base of skills useful in launching a business,” the URC study said.


The degrees student get today may help prepare them for doing something quite different in the future. That’s why universities should offer broad areas of study.


Attempts by lawmakers and others force universities to offer degree programs that fit only today’s job market needs may ultimately damage Michigan’s economic future.


Email Rick Haglund at haglund.rick@gmail.com