Editor's note: Gregory Crawford is the president of Miami University in Ohio.
Today’s college students may hold more than a dozen jobs in their careers – some that do not exist today and some that will disappear before they retire. Today’s universities, in addition to educating minds, must instill mindsets, ways of thinking that can be applied across disciplines and industries to unleash a new generation of leaders and innovators equipped to address the pressing issues of our time and the future.
A dynamic and disruptive economy is accelerating change at a pace never before seen. Yes, graduating with required skills and fixed knowledge is still important. But today’s graduates also need to be empowered with an agile, global, and inclusive mindset – able to assess needs, leverage or invent tools, and solve complex problems.
The marketplace increasingly will value such empowered students. Therefore universities must establish a boundary-breaking integration of learning and experience that provides our students with both the skills they need for entry into the workplace and the mindsets that will propel their success through the ever-evolving career landscape that will be their norm.
Universities must continue to advance excellence in traditional disciplines guaranteed by rigorous field-specific courses and majors. But we also must equip students with the ability to stretch their minds and boundaries, to experiment, and even to fail – in other words, to experience in their education what they will face in their life and career. In this way, students become creators of knowledge, not just absorbers, and start early applying what they know with real-world impact.
Although we wish to impart a full array of such mindsets to our students, I propose that these three are foundational for the coming decade:
Quantitative mindset: The quantitative world is not a vision for the future. It is here. The mushrooming importance of data and information, the introduction of artificial intelligence across nearly every discipline and industry, and the widespread application of sophisticated algorithms mean that our students need fluency with analytics and data-driven decisions to differentiate themselves in a vast array of careers. Sought-after graduates will be equipped not only with top-tier knowledge and technical skills, but also with a sense for finding meaning in facts and a human-centered approach to data analytics that protects against detrimental effects on individuals and society. We must incorporate data in a host of programs – not only foundational knowledge and skills, but also real opportunities to practice on real-world projects. At Miami, for example, our Center for Analytics & Data Science links students with partner companies that need data expertise, launching them into large and often complex problem-solving. All our first-year business students take a Business Quotient (BQ) course that requires analyzing a gigantic data set and identifying insights. All students have enhanced quantitative requirements – math, formal reasoning or technology. The days of “I’m not a math person” are probably gone. A “mindset-based” education means students in every major should acquire a working fluency in quantitative analysis, especially data and analytics, above and beyond most of today’s core requirements in the field.
Value creation mindset: Universities have long recognized entrepreneurship education as an economic driver, a platform for change, and a laboratory for agile innovation, startups and social ventures. We can enlarge that definition to embrace a wider emphasis on value creation – seeking potential, seizing opportunity and synthesizing solutions for societal impact. Instilling this entrepreneurial spirit and value creation mindset has, for example, guided Miami University’s co-major approach in our Institute for Entrepreneurship, which includes students across 80 majors. They can leverage failure as a steppingstone to success in a supportive environment where mistakes are learning experiences. A “mindset-based” education means every student should demonstrate the strategic agility required to create value amid fast-paced and unforeseen change.
Integrative mindset: The challenges of our time are so large and complex that no single discipline can equip students to solve them. We must educate our students across traditional disciplinary lines, preparing them to lead real-world teams with multiple stakeholders, not only from different academic backgrounds but also from a broad range of industries, cultures, experiences and vocabularies. The liberal arts play a central role in acquiring this mindset as students learn to think broadly, engage diverse and contrary views, conduct evidence-based analysis, connect disciplines and concepts in synthetic and synergistic ways, and master the power of spoken and written language. The liberal arts empower translating discovery to real-world impact and address such issues as ethics, privacy and fairness. Established liberal arts traditions like our Global Miami Plan are positioned to engage those issues that call for a contextual understanding of social science and moral reasoning as well as the expressive powers of speech, writing, and the arts for visualization design and presentation. By uniting disciplines in inter-, multi-, trans-disciplinary ways, universities can serve their essential function for this generation of students – connecting knowledge and creating value. A “mindset-based” education means that students lift their vision beyond discipline-specific expertise to effective real-world application.
This focus on mindsets – instilling the qualities that students need to adapt and thrive – elevates our identity as universities living our vision of Universitas magistrorum et scolarium, “a community of teachers and scholars.” It also liberates our students from the volatility of specific jobs and industries as they build careers able to adapt in an ever-shifting landscape. All of these elements are horizontal, reaching across our campuses and curricula and reaping the creative and collective benefits of integrating broad expertise with deep domain knowledge. Graduates with these mindsets will be ready to lead in ways that elevate the well-being of individuals, organizations and society, no matter the challenges that arise.