Corporate executives often view new college graduates in the same way one would when acquiring a previously owned automobile — “as is.” It is time to consider a different approach to this arm’s-length relationship between the private enterprise and American colleges and universities.
The mainstream media is full of stories about how growing student debt is affecting the consumer economy. Apparently the $1.2 trillion — and growing — outstanding student debt is changing consumer behavior. Large monthly debt payments are forcing the young workers in our labor markets to defer and delay other large-debt obligations as they work to pay down their student loans. This reduces consumer demand and affects important social actions, including family formation. All of these macro trends work to suppress final demand for products and services.
But I can hear my editor now: “What does this have to do with learning leaders?” My answer is: everything.
My interpretation of the title “learning leader” is that part of our profession’s mission is to lead. Therefore, we have the power to change some of the negative effects related to how learning takes place today. Part of the problem is that “as is” new hire grad approach I mentioned earlier. This leaves students selecting colleges, and more importantly majors, based on information that comes largely from their professors.
Don’t get me wrong, professors are smart, largely well-intentioned mentors for our youth. But the curriculum they create is based on what they have been educated to consider important. That approach was fine when the world was changing relatively slowly. Those days are over.
Today, the world is global and changing at an accelerating rate. As a result, it is difficult for learning leaders in nonacademic organizations to develop and deploy learning assets that address the challenges our enterprises face. It is even more of a challenge for the professors teaching our next generation of leaders.
We need new ways to provide advice to curriculum developers both inside and outside of the enterprise. No one is in a better position to take on this role than the learning leader. Learning leaders are intimately familiar with the learning priorities and strategy in an enterprise because they develop learning assets to support business goals. The learning leader essentially sits in a company’s wheelhouse as it steers the course toward prosperity. He or she is looking ahead. While that vision is blurred by the uncertainty we all face in today’s marketplace, it brings a valuable perspective to curriculum development that complements the expertise of our professors on campus.
The call to action is for learning leaders to lead by reaching above the “as is” status quo. This is done by becoming proactive in university priority setting and curriculum development. Forward-looking universities will seek the advice of knowledgeable learning leaders via advisory boards composed of college professors working with corporate leaders. It is through these voluntary associations that learning leaders in academia get the best advice from enterprise learning leaders.
This brings us back to the original student debt issue. When what is learned in school is of no value in the real world, student debt acts the way any unproductive investment works. It feels like dead weight, a lodestone around the college graduate’s neck.
It is not only the magnitude of the national student debt that is having a large and growing negative effect on our society, it is also the unproductive nature associated with much of that debt. We can do a lot better.
In the end, the “as is” relationship between learning leaders in our enterprises and those in our universities is exacerbating the negative effect of our expanding national student debt. There is an opportunity for corporate learning leaders to make a valuable contribution by addressing this important problem based upon their — your — vision and advice to learning leaders in our colleges and universities.