During the College’s President’s Opening Convocation on Friday, August 24, I had the pleasure of sharing a few thoughts and challenging us all to continue to color outside of the lines. We do so by creating a path for students to earn a college degree, when most in our society do not achieve this distinction. We do so by maintaining a curriculum grounded in liberal arts learning. I also commented on the countless attacks on liberal arts education and the push by legislators and power brokers to equate quality education purely with job acquisition.
Far too often, I have been asked about or participated in conversations which seem to debate the focus of a college education as either being to develop job skills or to acquire broader knowledge. In an economic recession with high unemployment, it is easy to understand the focus on organizing academic curriculum around the acquisition of marketable job skills sought by employers. Nevertheless, we know that there is far more to an education.
One of the strategies emerging within the Rockford Public School District is the development of academies within the high schools. The academies will be supported through supplemental connections with local industries. Implemented with flexibility, this approach will have a benefit of providing high school students with a better understanding of possible options for their future. Implemented rigidly, the approach begins to lock students in a direction far too early in their learning journeys. It is this concern that fosters our process of not allowing the declaration of a Rockford College major until the junior year.
A well-rounded education gives graduates more tools with which to solve problems, broader perspectives through which to see opportunities and a deeper capacity to build a more humane society. In fact our mission statement includes the phrase, “Rockford College strives to prepare students for fulfilling lives, careers, and participation in a modern and changing global society.” This idea of engaged citizenship is important to educational purpose.
In spite of the false dichotomy of the debates and conversations earlier referenced, our focus need not be on one educational element of purpose verses another. A solid education, grounded in the liberal arts, achieves multiple needs. The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is at the forefront, but there must also be an understanding that the effort develops the skills required for professional engagement, civic leadership and individual satisfaction. As Dr. Siconolfi reminded us during Friday’s Convocation, this conclusion is also captured within the Rockford College Learning Expectations – Knowledge, Values and Skills.
Robert L. Head, Ph.D.
President, Rockford College