What Purpose Does Higher Education Serve?
Rumor has it that once upon a time you could go to college, get good grades, receive training for a job, and expect to get (believe it or not) a job. Today, even the Department of Ed will tell you that’s not the case anymore.
“Let’s tell the truth,” US Department of Ed Deputy Director Richard Culatta said during a panel at Ashoka U’s Exchange last month. “After college, nobody cares what your GPA was.”
The president of Ashoka, Diana Wells, vigorously nodded her head. “Right. And many of the jobs graduating seniors will get didn’t even exist when they were freshmen, making training for repeating positions far less important than it used to be.”
So. If grades don’t matter, if training is often obsolete, and if getting a degree no longer guarantees you a job, what purpose does higher education serve? And, moreover, what purpose could it serve?
At Ashoka U’s 2012 Exchange on Disruptive Innovation in Higher Education, social entrepreneurs and educational leaders gathered in Arizona to get at an answer to these conversations. Sitting in on conversation after conversation, I heard two answers regularly emerge.
First, higher education needs competency-based models that will allow emerging professionals to succeed in a rapidly changing world, I heard everyone from college presidents to faculty members to students say. Second, colleges and universities need tools for teaching emerging professionals how to innovate, particularly when it comes to the social sector.
At Echoing Green, we believe that the best practices social entrepreneurs play a central role in developing these very models and tools. Social entrepreneurs’ innovative approaches, cross-sector thinking, cross-model approaches, entrepreneurial spirit, and more, can help emerging professionals develop what it takes to succeed today, particularly in the social sector. Which is why we’ve been breaking down the best practices of our 500+ Fellows and teaching them to young professionals through our new Work on Purpose program.
We know that young job seekers can no longer rely on having followed the rules, done what they were told, and even done it well, to get work. In the words of our senior VP, Lara Galinsky, job seekers today must be the founders of their career, taking their career paths as seriously as they might the founding of a new organization. This is very different from what was expected of their parents’ generation. As young profsesionals work to remain both competitive and personally engaged, they are becoming intrapreneurs—individuals who innovate from the inside of an organization or business—and are even pitching the creation of a new position that they themselves can fill (becoming what Ashoka U calls a job maker, rather than job taker). These advances require us to radically reevaluate the purpose of higher education today, and to envision an entirely new kind of higher education for tomorrow. I want to hear your thoughts. What purpose do you think higher education does…and could…serve today?
Photo: Big Stock Photo
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