As today’s students look for greater financial return on education, administrators must wake up to a harsh reality: Business leaders think schools offer dismal preparation for jobs. Even the most stellar graduates may struggle in the workplace if curricula fail to reflect corporate expectations.
Indeed, just 11% of business leaders — versus 96% of chief academic officers — believe graduates have the requisite skills for work, according to Harvard Business Review. That’s not a small disconnect; it’s a chasm. Many in the corporate world blame academia’s navel-gazing tendencies. Based on my experience, they have a point.
Full-time faculty are hired for their research skills and publishing cred. Experience beyond the ivory tower is a liability. An English professor friend was advised to wait tables rather than take community college work when she started her job-search. Real-world teaching gigs tarnish a tenure-track CV. Once faculty arrive on campus, they teach their research interests. It supports their work and furthers their publishing careers. This happens even in business schools. Thus, faculty end up teaching students how to become … graduate students. Students learn little about how their academic work might translate into real-world situations.
I know this because I arrived in the academic world directly from a corporate job. I worked as a journalist for TIME Warner publications before returning to graduate school. When I taught undergraduates, I worked from an entirely different perspective then my colleagues: I wanted students to succeed professionally. When I taught critical thinking and discussion, I talked about how they would need to apply the skills in meetings on the job. When I taught writing, I told them they would need the skill daily in office situations. Students’ future employment was never far from my mind. My colleagues, by contrast, were occupied with teaching how to write in a variety of academic contexts. I cut back on the academic for the sake of the practical.
There might be an easy solution to the business-academic disconnect. Colleges and universities already hire numerous adjuncts. What if administrators placed a higher value on the non-academic work experience on a teacher’s resume? Teachers with professional background bring additional skills to the classroom, including the ability to offer informed career advice to students who are increasingly hungry for practical learning. If schools pay attention to non-academic expertise when hiring adjuncts in a variety of departments — not just business, but also English, social science, psychology — they might find students graduate better prepared for work.