The "Economic Recovery" Is a Sad Joke

01/25/2011 05:37 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • John M. Eger Van Deerlin Endowed Chair of Communications and Public Policy at San Diego State University (SDSU)

More and more of our students earning a coveted degree from one of America's great universities are doomed to an uncertain future.

The worldwide financial meltdown has, we know, gutted the job market but when the dust settles, surely we face a jobless recovery. 

The problem is more acute, however.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, an academic journal covering post-secondary education in the U.S., recently raised the question whether university majors are "silos'' inhibiting learning.

Let's be honest.

The university majors that exist today are not necessarily job related. More importantly, a degree of any kind is no guarantee of a job. What is important is that young people "learn how to learn" (acquire genuine thinking skills) in college; and if possible, find out what they can be passionate about.

A few years ago, the US Department of Labor said that people will "have 10 to 14 jobs by age 38." Former Education Secretary Richard Riley at the time said that "the top 10 jobs that will be in demand (don't yet exist) and they will be using technologies that haven't been invented. In order to solve problems we don't even know are problems yet."

In an age where we are discovering that everything is connected to everything else, what we really need to do is create the interdisciplinary curriculum that emphasizes the new economy, the role of technology and the spirit of enterprise... specifically creativity and innovation.

The arts clearly have a vital role to play, but sadly most people still consider them a frill. Yet, studying the arts leads to a more creative and innovative workforce, which is precisely what we need to look at in reinventing our universities.

Speaking to a meeting of The Arts Education Partnership last spring, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said: "The arts can no longer be treated as a frill. Arts education is essential for building innovative thinkers who will be our nation's leaders for tomorrow."

The augment Duncan makes is simple: arts education stimulates creativity and innovation, critical for young Americans competing in a global economy. The Conference Board and IBM, in a mayor study with over 1500 CEOs, reported, "creativity is now the most important leadership quality for success in business, outweighing even integrity and global thinking."

We need to define a well-rounded education and to make the case for the importance of the arts, and an art-infused education.

According to the Americans for the Arts in Washington, D.C., this is the only sector where the growth of arts jobs in publishing, television, graphic design and related fields is a bright spot in the present day dismal economy. Importantly, the potential for truly creative and innovative jobs represent a strategy to lift America to a new level in the world.

Most analysts studying the new global economy agree that growing a "creative and innovative" economy represents America's salvation.

Isn't it time to retool all our systems of education?