Published on 2012/06/05
Higher education institutions need to begin to innovate themselves so their offerings suit the desires and needs of businesses and the increasing numbers of adult students colleges and universities are enrolling. After all, doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same results is the definition of insanity. Photo by Ian Muttoo.

In one day I heard doctors and nurses complaining about patients, faculty complaining about students, students complaining about faculty, way too many people complaining about the state of education (upon hearing I am faculty), Exxon-Mobile advertising they are going to solve the education problem, professors stating colleges and universities were seen as the place to go to solve the problems of business and indeed the world, Obama complaining about business (Bain & Co), Romney complaining about Obama’s lack of business experience, my neighbor complaining about rising prices in the local grocery, and a high school dropout I am mentoring complaining about all of the above. It dawned on me that everyone seems to have someone to complain about/blame/look down upon.

The topic of this article is focused on the needs of business and industry and the perception that higher education, or education in general is/is not meeting those needs. As an instructor/Dean/Coordinator/principal k-8 for 22 years and a trainer, education and training manager of a Fortune 100 company, consultant, consulting manager, partner in a midsize training and organizational development consulting firm, then successful entrepreneur in training and organizational development for 30 years, I may be uniquely qualified to see this issue from both sides. I teach in higher education, I am working on a doctorate, I consult across industries at all levels of organizations and I mentor consultants who also do so.

Business is in a state of continuous change, requiring continuous learning, innovation and change and leaders who can facilitate things happening at the speed of thought (Bill Gates, 1995). Globalization is requiring a whole new set of competencies. There are different needs at different levels in the organizations. Some of the issues are cultural awareness which translates to quality communications and awareness of cultural values, politics, and strong ethics, among other skills. The old militaristic model of organizations along with the structure and rigidity that results is being replaced by teams, fluidity of structure, decisions being made at the lowest levels of organizations and more learning.

So year by year, businesses are spending ever-increasing billions annually; training, educating and developing their employees around the world. Chief Learning officers, VPs of human development, Diversity Executives, VPs of organizational development and a plethora of other titles are in charge of training departments and organizational development and change departments. These departments provide either through their own employees or by contract education and training designed to meet the needs of the organization. Professional organizations, such as the American Society of Training and Development and the OD Network, and the American Petroleum Institute, to name just a few, are meeting the increased demands for education and training designed to meet the needs of their industries. None of the billions (even back in 1998, that figure was $18 billion according to ASTD) include professional organization dues and conventions or college tuition reimbursement.

Higher education has changed over the years. One degree I worked on had instructors fly to one location for a weekend and in 2 years we had a Masters degree. Ten years later I worked on my first online degree in computer technology in education. With a 4.0 average, I completed 18 graduate hours and barely could operate Word. Ten years later and I am working on a doctorate online and teaching online courses. Some of the classes I teach are 6 weeks in length and others are 12. There is more focus on outcomes and the focus has shifted from instructor’s subject matter expertise to facilitating the learning of students who are assumed to have read the material. The University of Phoenix paved the way to stressing workplace valued behaviors and knowledge and instructors with at least five years recent experience in their field. I interact with many higher education professionals again and was surprised how negatively this is perceived. Yet, many colleges and universities are at least advertising their instructors have or have had industry experience (not necessarily in what they are teaching).

Despite all the changes, few businesses look to higher education to meet their increasing education and training needs. Most colleges and universities have a continuing education division which is designed to attract these dollars, but most of the attendees in my experience are from small businesses and from levels not receiving the training needed for their future goals. In the 1980’s Continuing education units were awarded for workshops, presentations at conferences, many training courses offered by industries. Unfortunately, there was no tracking nationally and although I offered many CEU workshops and took many, they had no value other than what I learned. Now, certificate programs are being offered by many colleges and universities. My HR colleagues in both business and higher education say they are counted as proof of knowledge gained.

There are probably 20-30 universities with the clout to attract Chief Executive Officers to their MBA programs for executives or their certificate programs, but most of the offerings are not being attended by the titans of industry. But this is a change and is geared to meeting the needs of business and industry.

Why are business and industry leaders not looking to higher education to meet their growing needs for continuous learning? Why have businesses not spent some of the billions being spent on education and training at universities? In a world where collaboration and partnership are key words, why are they not associated with higher education and business and industry? A large part of the reason is that not a day goes by since the seventies that someone in the news reports on the sorry state of American education. Another contributing factor is the perception that “those who can do, those who cannot, teach”. This served as a title to a previous article I wrote which generated much anger and then discussion on various LinkedIn boards. Some boards would not even publish it. But I have heard this saying among my client base and peers and even in my family for 40 years. Education must overcome that perception. Several would be adjuncts have begun asking on HR and training and OD boards how to change careers which is met with sometimes a chilly learn about business and then learn about training. Often these would-be trainers are told, “Do not emphasize your degree and do not look like a teacher.”

The fact is that both business and higher education are suffering and need all the help they can get. Exxon-Mobil is willing to solve the problems in education; why is education itself not as willing? In an ideal world, Exxon-Mobil would gather together all the faculty and administrators in higher education that are open to change, good team players, good problem solvers and most important speak the language of business. There are many colleges and universities that are doing great, innovative things with good results.  Looking to recruit Chinese and Saudi students who like subject matter lectures by PhD’s will get enrollment up, but will it help us in the United States?

How do we position ourselves as having value in the “real world”? How do we counteract the negatives which circulate about education? I was told that that was about k-12, not higher education. Assuming that is correct, who educates and certifies the teachers and administrators in k-12. When I teach English comp, I believe I have a responsibility that none of my students will lose an opportunity for a job or lose a job because he/she cannot write. I wish the professor who taught me 18 hours of geology had felt that responsibility. When I began to travel the world, I had no idea geographically where I was without finding a world map.

This medium is perfect for continuing this discussion and making things happen. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity (Oprah).

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