In a speech given in California earlier this month, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin released major policy initiatives and government reforms he wishes to put in place in the Badger state. Most of the ideas Walker unveiled weren’t terribly groundbreaking, such as working to lower taxes and expanding the school voucher program. He also mentioned a bold proposal to tie the funding of the state’s technical colleges and university system to outcomes and performace. Elaborating on his proposal, an article published in the Wisconsin State Journal quoted Walker saying, “In higher education, that means not only degrees, but are young people getting degrees in jobs that are open and needed today, not just the jobs that the universities want to give us or degrees that people want to give us?”
Chris Larson, a Democrat in the Wisconsin Senate, said the proposal sounds like “social engineering” that would require students to study what the industry demands rather than decide for themselves what field to pursue. Walker’s intentions behind the proposal are unlikely to be as malicious as Larson suggests. We believe Walker is in good faith working to strengthen the ties between the state’s public education system and the state economy. However, Walker grossly overestimates the ability to predict the changing demands and needs of the free market. The belief that universities would be capable of formatting and changing their curriculum in anticipation of market demands is far-fetched and impractical. We also believe Walker’s view of higher education is severly limited. The role of higher education extends far beyond simply boosting student’s professional careers. College gradutes receive not only a degree but also a much deeper appreciation for learning and an expanded worldview. Colleges and universities should continue to be funded regardless of what specific skills might be in demand.