MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXIV No. 4
March / April 2012
The Next President of MIT
The Search for MIT's Seventeenth President
MIT 2030: A Capital Planning Framework for the Future
MIT's Ongoing Commitment to OpenCourseWare
New Open Access Working Group Formed:
Formulating Response to Elsevier's Policy Change
MIT: Rebuilding Community
Over-Schooled and Under-Skilled
Faculty Committee Activity: Spring 2012 Update
Travis Merritt and the Founding of Charm School Training Scores Big at MIT:
Gets Personal with lyndaCampus
MAP Program: Calling All Faculty
Workshop: Leadership Skills for Engineering and Science Faculty
On the Creation of MITx
Past Presidents of MIT
Printable Version

Over-Schooled and Under-Skilled

Ernst G. Frankel

The result of America’s college addiction, driven largely by government and politicians’ encouragement and fostered by the development of a huge for-profit college industry, will haunt America’s economy and social structure for years to come.

A larger percentage of high school graduates continue with a four-year college education in America than in any other developed country, and most obtain a liberal arts or related education that, in general, does not qualify them for a career. In parallel, skill education, particularly in engineering and technology areas, is quite deficient and consists largely of ill-funded community colleges and squandered vocational training facilities. At the same time, in professions such as medicine, it is recognized that there is an urgent need for well-qualified medical professionals who are not doctors, with six to 10 years of study and training. Physician Assistants or PAs have become a popular profession, and PAs are qualified to perform a large range of treatments and procedures, relieving the strain on doctors and hospitals.

There is an urgent need to establish a similar level professional in engineering, science, and technology areas if America is to regain its industrial and manufacturing competence and ability. America’s renowned major technical universities, such as MIT, could lead this effort and introduce a one- to two-year technical competence program to which high school graduates are admitted, and which consists of 6-8 hours/week of classroom instructions and 20-30 hours/week of workshop or laboratory training under supervision of qualified instructors. After a two-year period, participants would be examined in both theory and practice in their chosen area of technology, engineering, science, or management.

There is an urgent need for skill building in America and no better place than the workshops and laboratories of major universities and research labs to do it. Here young people can learn not only how to use tools and convert concepts into meaningful products and solutions, but also how to organize the realization of concepts and ideas.

Labs and workshops of universities and research institutions would also benefit. Recent history shows that many, if not most, new concepts or inventions were advanced and often developed by non-experts not afraid of raising the “why not” questions.

It is important to recognize that new blood, thought, and questioning minds are often the seed for scientific, technological, and management advances. We should have both the courage and patience to consider the approaches and concepts of completely novel ideas. Similarly, classes will be informal and use remote and electronic methods to permit students to review subject matter at their leisure, but should include rigid testing and competence reviews. Most importantly, students should be kept to a rigid work and study discipline and expected to properly contribute to workshop and lab work.

Program in Certificate of Competency in Engineering and Science

Unlike other professional areas such as medicine, legal, and others, there is no intermediate skill training or certification available in science or engineering. However, there are many jobs where an academic degree is neither required nor particularly useful.

We are now in such a situation in science and engineering, urgently requiring an intermediate training program that prepares science and engineering professionals without the need for a four- to six-year academic curriculum. America lags behind countries like Germany, Japan, and others in professional training, and there is a profound need for formal science/engineering apprenticeship training at reputable universities or other institutions that leads to a formal certificate of competence in engineering or science disciplines. Our community colleges and similar institutions are inadequate in dealing with these challenges, and our college-for-all strategy is wasteful and inefficient, as it often wastes students’ time in learning subjects that contribute little if anything to the development of the knowledge and skills required in modern industry and services.

Institutions such as MIT could start large-scale certificate of competence programs in which students work in the Institute’s labs and workshops and also receive several hours of classroom instruction, leading to a “Certificate of Competency” in a branch of engineering, science, or management. Combining practical and classroom training and establishing real face-to-face mentoring would help develop an urgently needed new workforce for America’s reviving manufacturing and service industries.

America urgently needs young, committed, and well-trained engineers and scientists to serve its industry and economy. It is important to recognize that many of our most imaginative and advanced science and technologies were not developed by people with lofty degrees from renowned institutions, but by thinkers who acquired basic science and engineering skills, without lengthy classroom attendance.

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