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  • Writer's pictureBeth & Tim Manners

Traditional Studies are in ‘Major’ Trouble

Updated: Sep 18, 2019

Axios: “In 1869, at Harvard, Charles Eliot invented the college major as we know it — each student would be channeled into a specialized area of study, and move on to a stable, lifelong job.” However: “The seismic shifts created by frontier technologies are challenging a centuries-old model of higher education — one that is already under siege as the cost of college skyrockets, student debt balloons, and automation eliminates entire careers. Some university majors are aimed at jobs that might not exist any longer in the years and decades ahead. For those jobs that will exist, experts say, the uniquely human skill of problem-solving is essential, rather than a specific major. ‘The old model of studying one thing is giving way to a need for broadly trained workers,’ says Darrell West of the Brookings Institution.”

“Cal State Long Beach has partnered with the Institute for the Future to roll out ‘Beach 2030’ — a plan to ramp up interdisciplinary courses that reflect the fast-changing global landscape, and thus to ‘build future-ready students.’ Arizona State University has opened a College of Integrative Arts and Sciences that eliminates academic departments entirely and instead gives out degrees melding disciplines. Concordia University in Montreal has teamed up with five other Canadian universities focused on ‘skills training’ in addition to traditional degrees.”

The movement has its skeptics: Certain majors might need to be spruced up, but the idea of upending the model entirely is dangerous, says Matthew Mayhew, a professor at Ohio State. ‘There are still tons of people in college who are pre-med or accounting or chemistry majors that are getting jobs and directly applying what they learned in college,’ Mayhew says.” However, Mark Somerville of Olin College comments: “A smaller set of majors that are much more broadly defined is the direction we ought to be moving in. When it’s hard to predict what the jobs of the next 10 years will be — much less the next 50 years — acquiring the skills necessary to acquire skills is more important than the specifics of any given discipline.”

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