The stronger focus on applied learning in public universities such as Virginia Tech and Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta also is driven by the harsh economics of state budget constraints.
Despite alarms raised by policy makers about the need to develop a more educated American work force, state legislatures aren't coming up with the cash.
Taxpayer funding in Virginia has fallen 11 percent during the past five years per full-time equivalent student after adjusting for inflation, while enrollment has climbed 21 percent, according to data from the State Higher Education Executive Officers association in Boulder, Colo. Funding in Georgia is down 23 percent in the same period, while enrollment is up 32 percent.
As taxpayer backing shrinks, costs shift to parents and students, who pay higher tuitions and take on more debt — which makes the goal of monetizing education with a solid job more urgent.
Tuition and fees for in-state students at public four-year colleges and universities have climbed in the past decade at an average annual pace of 5.6 percent beyond the rate of inflation, according to the College Board. Student-loan debt jumped to $904 billion in the first quarter of this year, the highest in records going back to 2003 tracked by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Steep payments for education loans hurt the economy, partly because they mean less consumer spending on purchases such as houses, President Obama said Thursday at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
American companies are helping with money, advice and positions for job-seeking graduates. In return, they want schools to take a more active role in training and skill formation.
"We do see employers who are interested in having students who can come in and be productive right away," said Ralph Mobley, director of career services at Georgia Tech. "Small to mid-sized companies, and even some larger ones, don't have budgets for training like maybe they once did. They are looking to save some of that cost."