Add another piece to the realigned demographic puzzle of those on college campuses these days.
The college students who are already older than the immediate post-high school years include students who are coming as part of training in their full-time jobs. Their goal isn’t a four-year degree and they aren’t taking the courses that go toward such degrees.
Their companies are sending them to college campuses like Southwest Tennessee Community College for job training over a matter of weeks the company itself has had a hand in designing.
Community colleges are the first into the breach on what is expected to be a large number of manufacturing jobs coming to the Memphis economic sector in the next four to five years.
But the colleges and universities we identify now with four-year degrees and graduate programs are also seeking out a share of what is a basic route to a training certificate or associate degree that means an immediate promotion or step up in the workplace or a job as a direct result of that training.
The route is as direct as it is swift. It does not include the required courses that have historically been considered necessary to make for a well-rounded student no matter what course of study they choose to major in.
Questions about the more direct route to associate degrees and other short term job training certification are certain to add fuel to the debate about how “well rounded” the path to a four-year degree should be and the relevance of courses with no direct connection to a major.
We believe higher education in Tennessee must be big enough to add the workforce training that the technology in our resurgent manufacturing sector now requires but also keep the elements that help students decide for themselves the places that a broader education can take them.
Many of the students attending Southwest Tennessee and other community colleges are there in pursuit of courses they can take for less or at times not available on other campuses as they work toward a bachelor’s degree.
Similarly, students at the University of Memphis are part of what is likely to become the largest software testing organization in the country with direct ties to the businesses seeking advances in the software crucial to what they do.
As students learn through a mix of online, digital and classroom experiences, there is one element that will remain – the uncertainty of career plans and majors that can change positively with exposure to a world beyond a path set before the walk across the stage for a high school diploma.
Making that uncertainty a positive thing doesn’t mean there isn’t room for those who want a direct and rapid path to technical knowledge. It should mean elements beyond that path are available to all should their quest move to something else that catches their eye and their soul.