The ‘Business’ of College

Businesses in the United States tend to treat colleges & universities as their “Minor Leagues,” the way Major League Baseball teams have minor league teams around the country ready to fill their rosters.  Or like the NFL and the NBA use academics as their feeder system.  Don’t think so?  Watch next year’s NFL or NBA draft.  What is the source of the new players being drafted?  You know the answer: educational institutions!  If you’re big enough, strong enough, skilled enough, chances are you’re looking to attend the college that can lead you to a professional sports career.  Why?  To quote Willie Sutton, infamous bank robber, when asked why he robbed banks?  “Because that’s where the money is.”

So what is the role of today’s colleges & universities?  Many colleges take a lot of money from corporations.  In return, the corporation – or wealthy individual – gets to put their names on an auditorium or business school or such.  It’s in colleges’ best interests to play along.

Ask yourself, exactly what is the role of a college in today’s world?  Ask your friends. You’ll get varied answers.  However, if you’re a parent today with a child entering college, or already in college, or soon-to-graduate, or worse: already graduated and living back with you, chances are good you have answered the same way the parents at my son’s orientation answered (see #3): to get a good (paying) job.

I believe that that the role of a college is to expose its students to learning that teaches them how to think critically and abstractly in order to deal with the concrete yet ambiguous world in which we live.  The student you sent away at age 18 is vastly different from the student you’re getting back at age 21-22.  It may not seem that way once you get re-acquainted with their lifestyle as played out on their bedroom floors! But, they’ve been exposed.  They’ll never be the same again.

But, let’s be honest, college is a business just like General Motors or Wal Mart is a business.  The purpose of a business – shareholders aside for a moment – is to make money, thus enabling them to stay in business and even grow the business. Colleges have large campuses that have become all-inclusive resorts to cater to every whim, and even larger payrolls to meet in accordance with the ‘arms-race’ of engaging every student.  They will do what it takes to get your child in and if the child learns to think critically, so much the better.  But sometimes the mission can get lost in all of the confusion or the need to bring in revenue….


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