SHEPHERDSTOWN – As Shepherd University officials debate how to boost enrollment, the issue of whether to pursue a liberal arts course or better prepare students for the workforce has emerged.
“It’s getting harder and harder for the university to compete for students,” said University vice President Diane Melby.
The debate is controversial, as faculty members debate their goals. No faculty members contacted would take a stand publicly. Some said technical schools exist for preparing students for the workforce, while others side giving students a more traditional liberal arts education will better prepare them.
Honors Program Director Mark Cantrell said the capstone program, which is a graduation requirement for all seniors, is designed to help students understand what is expected of them in the workplace.
“The capstone program for seniors is one way in which students are being prepared for the workforce at Shepherd,” Cantrell said. “Many capstones require students to write resumes, contact employers and generally prepare for an actual job.”
Student reaction to the plan is varied. Senior English major Aja Bailey agreed with Cantrell about the capstone program.
“I am being prepared for the work force but only through the capstone course. Since a lot of students aren’t in the work force yet, it definitely should be a priority for every college,” Bailey said. “It would boost the confidence of people intimidated by the work force and we’ll have an idea of what to expect when we go for an interview.”
“I don’t feel as if I am being prepared for the work force at all,” said junior business major Matt Deal. Computer-programming major Corey Matthews agreed with Deal.
“I don’t think I’m being prepared for the work force,” said political science major Jackson Muse, “but I didn’t come to a liberal arts school to learn that. I would have gone to a technical school if I wanted to learn how to work a job. I think my higher education experience here will make me more able to perform any job.”
Whether to focus on preparing students for the workforce is a topic that is being discussed on liberal arts campuses nationwide; a recent article by Jeffrey J. Selingo of the Washington Post cites a study of 32,000 students at 169 colleges and universities found that 40 percent of college seniors fail to graduate with the complex reasoning skills needed in today’s workplace.
“The big difference between the skills of graduates depended on their college major,” writes Selingo. “Students who studied math and science scored significantly higher than those who studied in the so-called helping and service fields, such as social work, and in business, which is the most popular college major.”
Shepherd University’s strategic plan, which details the university’s goals and efforts to improve, can be found online at www.shepherd.edu/university/strategic-plan.