The College Puzzle Blog
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Dr. Michael W. Kirst

Michael W. Kirst is Professor Emeritus of Education and Business Administration at Stanford University since 1969.
Dr. Kirst received his Ph.D. in political economy and government from Harvard. Before joining the Stanford University faculty, Dr. Kirst held several positions with the federal government, including Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Manpower, Employment and Poverty. He was a former president of the California State Board of Education. His book From High School to College with Andrea Venezia was published by Jossey Bass in 2004.

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My blog discusses the important and complex subjects of college completion, college success, student risk factors (for failing), college readiness, and academic preparation. I will explore the pieces of the college puzzle that heavily influence, if not determine, college success rates.

College Success Drives Economic Prosperity

Policymakers, politicians, and parents lament the rift between K-12 schools and college – High schools teach one thing and colleges demand another.

These misaligned expectations results from poor communication between K-12 and our college system – miscommunication that leaves us with far too many students who lack proper academic preparation for college success. And, by the way, these misinformed high school students become struggling college students for whom college completion becomes more dream than reality.

There is a similar, dangerous rift that exists between colleges and companies. Colleges, in general, are not graduating students who can contribute to the American enterprise. Thus, corporations are compelled to invest in, at a minimum, training newly hired workers or, at worst, remediating them with basic skills courses.

Howard Block, who commented for this Blog's previous entry, is frustrated by experts’ frequent lamentations that our economy will fail without more college graduates. Humbug, he says -- it’s not about graduates! It’s about skills. We need more educated, skilled and informed labor, IRRESPECTIVE of graduating from college. The graduation ceremony and diploma should be the byproducts, the accoutrements of the skills and knowledge acquired.

Therein lays the opportunity.

The rift, the miscommunication between traditional colleges and American enterprise is presents a huge opportunity, more significant, in Block's view, as that which faced John Sperling—the founder of Apollo Group--more than thirty years ago when traditional colleges did not address the needs of the consumer. Driven by the failures of traditional colleges, John Sperling built the largest university in this country on the back of a powerful B2C (business to consumer) model.

Now, traditional colleges are not addressing the needs of business. Therefore, winning colleges or companies will build a B2B (business to business) model.

But, in order to do that, postsecondary education companies will need to deploy sophisticated sales professionals who are accustomed to calling on sophisticated businesses. The winning colleges or companies will need a coat-and-tie crew that can dazzle ‘em in the board room.
Colleges will need to approach employers, ask them what they need in terms of skills or competencies. (Most large employers already catalogue the competencies they need to prosper. ) Then, the colleges will contract with employers to provide students with those competencies. This will compel colleges to build curricula that map to the competencies.

This increasing communication between colleges and business would further elevate the ownership taken by employers in student development. This should also compel employers to offer greater levels of tuition subsidy thereby addressing the burgeoning problem of rising tuition.

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