There is an ongoing debate raging as to whose responsibility it is to prepare college graduates for today’s workforce. Corporate managers suggest that many college graduates aren’t prepared with the critical thinking, problem solving, and decision-making skills necessary to affect corporate productivity and profitability. Conversely, college administrators suggest students are well-prepared by their standards.
As corporations and colleges bicker back and forth about the responsibility of preparing students for the 21century workforce, students are left in the lurch. Although a case can be made that both sectors are responsible for the advancement of students, colleges and universities have the most to lose.
Here are 3 reasons why the burden of preparing college graduates for today’s workforce falls on colleges and universities.
1. Despite what college administrators believe, corporations dictate the value of student preparation. The old saying, “The customer is always right,” rings true when merchants are trying to enlist buy-in and patronage from customers needing specific products and services. For merchants to tell customers that they have bad taste or don’t understand the value of a product or service is business suicide. If students can’t get hired within their chosen profession, because they lack the essential skills needed by companies, it makes no sense to push back on what companies deem as desired skills from graduates. It is best for college administrators to partner as well as ask more questions about serving the economic needs of corporate managers. Positioning graduates for the best jobs within their fields creates a win-win situation that lead to better branding and placement results for colleges and universities.
2. Thought leadership and subject matter expertise falls under the educational banner. If corporate managers are grossing over the scarcity of graduates exhibiting critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills, what better way of marketing the student body than by requiring each student create intellectual property germane to their profession? If colleges are graduating scholars and subject matter experts, not only would corporations engage in bidding wars for these students, but they also would view specific institutions as feeder systems (Think Ivy League schools). If a college is widely recognized for producing bona fide thought leaders, there would be very little discussion as to whether a college degree is a valid investment. The return on investments would sell itself.
3. The survival of colleges hinge on their ability to remain relevant. Today’s economic realities have colleges competing amongst themselves as well as their own viability. When the accounting giant Ernst & Young determined it saw no correlation between a college degree and corporate success, it questioned the future viability of colleges. What if corporations determined they would create their own colleges where they could mold students into their own corporate images? They could set their educational unit up as a nonprofit institution and have students apply for governmental student loans. Every student would automatically be hired upon graduation into its corporation. Talk about educational reform and economic development in one fell swoop. This would quash all the challenges companies currently face with new hires, as well as create a totally new profit center and feeder system for corporations.
At the end of the day, capitalism always wins. The need for better, easier, and faster will always be the clarion call for success. It is in the best interest of colleges to become irreplaceable before corporations act to make them expendable. Technology and innovation makes us all either visionaries or dinosaurs. And we get to choose which one we want to be.
Edward S. Brown, M.S.