Commentary & Analysis
The Useful Arts (part 2 of the "Trolling for Student"s series)
By Pete Rivard We live in a world where the kid with the B.
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: February 7, 2005
By Pete Rivard We live in a world where the kid with the B.A. in History or Geography is filling latte orders at Starbucks. February 7, 2005 -- For a thousand years and more, people who practiced what were regarded as the "useful arts" were held in high esteem and were valued members of their communities. The useful arts were those practical crafts without whose practitioners a village or town was truly at a competitive disadvantage. That would be those crafts whose masters held job titles that ended with "smith" or "wright." Blacksmith. Wheelwright. Goldsmith. Wainwright. These smiths and wrights were rigorous in the education of their emerging talent, and upwardly mobile families competed fiercely for their scions to secure limited apprenticeships. Gutenberg made it possible for "printer" to be added to the list of the useful arts. Today, there may be no better educational institution for the furtherance of the useful arts than the technical college. And there may be no more useful way for a high school graduate to begin their post secondary education than earning an Associate of Applied Science in one of today's useful arts. The aspiring knowledge workers just graduating high school need to understand that learning what they need to know to do whatever jobs they take on is now a life-long process. They need to be told this by their parents and by their career counselors. No one can expect to ride their initial education all the way to retirement. So, beginning with an A.A.S. degree in a technical category makes more and more sense, especially when most, if not all, of the credits are transferable into four-year colleges and universities. Now there are options: take your A.A.S. straight into the work force and gain some experience and cash before taking years three and four, or transfer right away into an articulated four-year school. My graduates do both. On the educational pyramid, the two-year technical college classification occupies the space directly above the high school, on the same tier with the community college, and below the four-year colleges and universities. The evidence shows that the average high school career counselor charged with advising high school students on post-secondary options bends every fiber of his or her being toward directing the upper half of every graduating class to four-year universities and colleges. Whether those students ever graduate with a B.A., B.S. or higher, and whether or not they actually progress to satisfying careers does not appear to be a metric to which the counselor is held accountable. Whether or not they should be is another discussion. One of the ironies of this business is that our two year grads are usually out-earning the very people that talked them into enrolling, often within a year of graduating, if not sooner. The lower half of the graduating body is sorted out in the direction of the community colleges and technical schools. One of the tasks of the community college is to remediate the academic standing of their charges such that they can earn their way back into the four-year colleges and universities that took a pass on them the first time around. This leaves the technical colleges to train what remains for the increasingly high skill, increasingly digital, and ever evolving technologies. For example, on demand, variable printing and enterprise publishing. Note to high school career counselors: the kid who ekes out a C- in metal shop is going to get smoked in a current graphics and printing technologies program. The kid who silk screens XXL T-shirts in "printing" class is not preparing himself to bang out XML. We live in a world where the kid with the B.A. in History or Geography is filling latte orders at the coffee house and the manager of the on demand service bureau stands in line and wonders where his H.R. people are going to find qualified applicants. Most of my school's own admissions counselors hold BAs. One of the ironies of this business is that our two year grads are usually out-earning the very people that talked them into enrolling, often within a year of graduating, if not sooner. With all this in mind, the task of Dunwoody College of Technology's recruiting staff, augmented with instructor support, is to persuade high school students, their parents and their career counselors that there is no stigma attached to attending today's technical college, only benefits. We are targeting the upper half of the graduating class now, at least for the Graphics and Printing Technologies program. We have to: we're teaching typesetting, layout, image manipulation, document scanning, digital printing and finishing in the first year so that our students will be prepared for automated workflows, asset management, color management, package design, databases and scripting in their second year. We need to turn out right brain-left brain multitasking collaborators. Don't send us the kids with 8 th grade math skills and an aversion to reading--we'll send them somewhere else. We're honoring the centuries old tradition of the useful arts. Our program is evolving with the industry and rigor is called for. We're looking for motivated young women and men who want their learning to be useful. We'll instill the art.