Disillusionment with Higher Education in the Middle East and the United States

By Cochran, Judith A. | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Disillusionment with Higher Education in the Middle East and the United States


Cochran, Judith A., Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Disillusionment with Higher Education in the Middle East And the United States

Graduation from college for most Middle Easterners and Americans is a cause for celebration. Because of the failure to reform their curricula to be in line with the needs of the marketplace, the youth of both regions now find that the initial post-graduation euphoria is likely followed by the disillusionment of underemployment or even unemployment. In 1967, the bulk of American university students were enrolled in liberal arts, theology, or law schools as future members of the cultural elite (Astin 1998). The same enrollment trends were true in the Middle East, where the mostly-male student populations were prepared for employment in the military, religious organizations, or government. In 2011 some 1.5 million American university graduates have abandoned liberal arts degrees in favor of useful skills and knowledge needed for employment. Likewise, university graduates in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Israel are expecting employment and, partly as a result of their degree, to become better off financially. American university graduates also expect to earn better salaries than they did before obtaining their degrees. For university graduates in both regions, post-graduation employment and subsequent salary levels are sources of disappointment.

A college student learns at some point in his or her educational career that there are three sets of expectations to be considered: those of the student, the educational institution, and, lastly, the potential employer--the elephant in the room. In contrast to student expectations, higher educational institutions accept students primarily to meet political and social mandates. Secondary university goals are then to impart knowledge and life skills. The employers plan to hire graduates with university degrees who supposedly possess skills necessary for success in the workplace. These diverse expectations often result in graduates' disillusionment with the benefits of higher education in the Middle East and the United States. In the Middle East, graduates often wait as long as two to three years to obtain a low-paying, secure government position. In the United States, graduates often are unable to get employment in the fields for which they have prepared. In specific occupations such as medicine, there is no need to for graduates in any region to worry about employment or adequate salaries after graduation. However, in both the United States and the Middle East, there exists a disconnect between expectations of university graduates and employers. This is where the restructuring of university curricula in some institutions is beginning to take place.

Early Higher Education in the Middle East

For the past thousand years, Middle Eastern graduates of yeshivas, madrassahs, and institutes of higher learning were guaranteed employment. The first institutes of higher education in the Middle East were Houses of Learning mostly located near Jewish temples or synagogues. Obviously there had to be leaders of the institutes of higher education. The scribes and the Pharisees were the scholars of the first century in charge of the houses for students of Jewish law and of education in general. Early educational goals were to prepare leaders to guide the Jewish tribal members in following religious statutes and ordinances. For centuries, learning was recognized as having memorized the oral or written covenants from God. The discussion of various interpretations of the covenants encouraged intellectual debate in what is now called Socratic Seminars. Codifying the Jewish and Christian discussions resulted in the development of differing Houses of Study. The most remarkable aspect of Houses of Study later called Houses of Learning or Yeshivas is not only their number but also their longevity. Most developed in the Middle East and continue today to educate religious leaders throughout that region and the United States. …

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