I think that our expectations regarding a college education and finding a job or advancing a career have grown increasingly out of whack.
Last week, I participated in a meeting that drew together people from both higher education and various business sectors. The meeting was called to discuss a collaborative effort to design and develop a leadership institute. This institute would serve to educate both current college students and business professionals in the art of successful leadership.
Unfortunately, things did not go as everyone had hoped. It seemed that the chasm between what business expected from higher education and what higher education could deliver was deep and wide.
Much has been written about the disconnect between higher education and the corporate world. In this lean business climate, everyone is searching for greater alignment, value, and return on investment. The private sector and higher education share in striving for what is best for their institutions and their customers.
And therein lies the out-of-wackiness.
The problem is that colleges and universities were never designed as career training centers.
It was pointed out in this meeting that the primary mission of higher education is to promote and foster scholarship. If you look up the definition of scholarship, you will find something like this:
“The character, qualities, activity, or attainments of a scholar or learned person.”
Now, if you look at the mission statements of most for-profit businesses, the focus is on things like quality, innovation, and shareholder value.
So as colleges and universities are focused on developing quality or “learned” people, businesses are focused on providing quality products and services while making a profit.
Companies need highly-skilled people who are “trained” to deliver quality goods and services. But it’s not the mission of a college degree program to churn out “trained” workers. It’s their charter to educate students who will graduate with a comprehensive understanding of their field of study. That means that graduates are ready to be trained to meet their employers’ requirements — after they’re hired.
All in all, I do think that higher education needs to be more in tune with the needs of industry, but to expect them to rapidly train an emerging workforce is just an unrealistic expectation.