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Mar 20, 201811:22 AMInside Wisconsin

with Tom Still

In Wisconsin’s quest to produce more workers and startups, don’t forget liberal arts

(page 1 of 2)

From time to time, colleges and universities can — and should — clean out the cobwebs of curricula clutter.

That’s one reason behind the UW–Stevens Point proposal to eventually cut or restructure about 13 majors in liberal arts while shifting resources to about 16 other majors, mostly in the science and technology realm. A looming campus budget gap may be the biggest impetus for the plan, which must still pass muster with a campus governance committee and the UW Board of Regents.

What’s missing in the UW–Stevens Point conversation, which has attracted notice nationwide, is an honest assessment of what employers expect from college graduates they hire. Do they want an emphasis on STEM disciplines — science, technology, engineering, and math — or a liberal arts background that may be more adaptable?

The confusing answer is both.

College administrators are grappling with that reality in an era in which they’ve been told repeatedly that businesses want more people with technical expertise. At the same time, they’re being told to produce people who are talented in communications, teamwork, problem solving, and creativity. In a right-brain, left-brain world, that’s a challenging combination of skills.

What those same administrators need to know is that not all STEM disciplines are created equal when it comes to job market demands.

Predictions by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and others suggest there will be roughly three jobs for every one computer science graduate over the next five to seven years, but only one job for every 10 graduates in the life sciences, such as biology.

Striking a balance is crucial, not only in producing graduates needed by employers and society, but also in helping young companies tied to academia get on their feet.

One such example is LifeMapping, a soon-to-be incorporated company tied to the UW–Madison Department of Geography.

LifeMapping is an internet-based way for users to map their paths through life, starting with where they were born. Users collect their stories, photos, videos — even music — and pin them to where and when they happened. Its founder is Dean Olsen, a former advertising executive whose own unusual path brought him back to UW–Madison as a student.

(Continued)

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About This Blog

Tom Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.

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