Magazine article University Business

Why Relevance Matters

Magazine article University Business

Why Relevance Matters

Article excerpt

IN SOME EDUCATIONAL CIRCLES, relevance is an unacceptable word. It raises fears that the ancient and liberal arts will be sacrificed on the altar of expediency and that all higher education will be subsumed by vocational training. Relevance in the college and university business is frequently dismissed as a horrific quality that would lead to the creation of curricula that pandered to students' notions of what was and wasn't currently relevant in their lives. I don't believe that to be true, but I do believe that higher education has a profound obligation to be relevant for this simple fact: Educational policy profoundly influences future supply, not only in this country but around the world. Educational institutions are self-governing and largely free from outside influences in matters of degree programs and curricula. Yet they play the vital role--sometimes the only role--in creating relevant educational programs. If colleges and universities don't respond to educational shortages, who will? If colleges and universities don't create and implement degree programs that respond to societal challenges, who will? Relevance matters.

The 1993 National Academy of Science report "Allied Health Services: Avoiding Crises" included this prophetic observation: "If no steps are taken to bolster the future supply of personnel in several allied health fields, health care institutions will be hampered in meeting the public's demand for services." In 2003, the Department of Health and Human Services told Congress that "the aging 'baby boomer generation' will be the most significant factor in increasing the demand for lung-term care services over the next half century," with increases in the number of elderly expected to increase from about eight million in 2000 to around 19 million by 2050. Twenty-seven million Americans will be using nursing facilities, alternative residential care, or home care services by 2050. This past April, Medical News Today, covering the second annual FuturePoint Summit (a coalition of academic and business leaders in the health care field committed to finding solutions to the allied health workforce shortages) reported that "a shortage of at least 1.6 million to 2.5 million allied health workers is predicted by 2020." Compounding the problem is the aging of our current health care workforce. According to Dr. Jennifer Schindel of Health Workforce Solutions, the average age of long-term care workers is 48, the average age of health educators is 47, almost 50 percent of our clinical lab technicians will be eligible for retirement by 2010, and close to 50 percent of our certified counselors are over age 55, as are 30 percent of our social workers. Although the projections may vary from prognosticator to prognosticator, the consensus is the same: Our country is already facing shortages of educated and trained professionals in the allied health fields despite rapid growth in the number of frontline health care professionals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the "frontline workforce is growing faster (32.6 percent) than the growth rate of all health and health care occupations (23.3 percent), and significantly faster than the growth rate for all occupations (14.8 percent) in the United States workforce." Unfortunately, this projection reflects only the increase in jobs needed due to occupational growth and doesn't consider the need for occupational replacements--a number which is projected to require growth of more than 49 percent just to keep up with demand. …

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