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November 19, 2012 2:12 PM More From the Department of Bad Ideas

By Daniel Luzer

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (who is totally awesome at coming up with responsible policy solutions to his state’s structural problems) has a new plan to try and fix funding for state colleges.

According to an article Dee J. Hall and Samara Kalk Derby in The Wisconsin State Journal:

Gov. Scott Walker unveiled major new policy initiatives… including requiring Wisconsin’s schools, technical colleges and universities to meet certain benchmarks to earn state funding.
Among the proposals was one to tie funding for technical colleges and the University of Wisconsin System with how well those institutions prepare students to take available and needed jobs in Wisconsin.

Because, as Walker explained, he has heard “tremendous concerns” from employers in health care, manufacturing and information technology “that they have jobs but they just don’t have enough skilled workers to meet those jobs.”

Now, let’s leave aside for a moment the fact that these concerns voiced by employers are misguided (there is, economists have demonstrated, no shortage of skilled workers), the trouble is this is a pretty dangerous way to create education policy. Wisconsin Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson, a Democrat, protested that the Walker idea looks like “social engineering,” forcing students to study “what industry wants” rather than what students want.

What’s more, responsible education policy would prepare the state’s college students for careers for the next 30 or 40 years, not just the few available jobs “in health care, manufacturing and information technology” this year.

In fact we have no idea what the jobs of the next few decades will look like. I wonder what we’d have gotten if we’d started tying college funding to training people for the (predicted) jobs of “the future” in 1985. Better look to Japan!

What Walker is proposing is social engineering, sure. The real trouble, however, is that it’s simply bad social engineering.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer