The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

July 23, 2012

What’s a College Education For, Anyway?

By Jim Hessler

Maybe we should outlaw educational resumes.

I’ve been reading about disturbing trends in higher education in the U.S. Students are spending less time studying and more time playing. Colleges are inflating grades to increase their record of job placement, thereby attracting more applications.

We’re pushing more and more of the expense of college onto teenagers and young adults, burdening them with huge debt, making the process of their entry into the working world more stressful and less satisfying.

To many young people, a college education confers something less like a “diploma” and more like a “ticket” into wealth and acceptance. By positioning college degrees as rewards for putting in the time and paying “the man,” we move further from the idea that a college education is a vehicle on the journey of contribution to the world – not just a way to insure a better-than-average income.

By putting this immense pressure on academics — positioning higher education as a tool for economic competitiveness rather than the development of an enlightened citizenry — and by burdening students with an economic yoke, we are cheapening the actual value of the education at the exact time we put greater emphasis on it as a component of the hiring equation.

So what do we get?  The average cost of a college education here is now about 10 times what it costs in Canada. The number of people caught lying about their college credentials is on the rise, with the most recent example being the head of Yahoo. One researcher generates a “Liars Index” and says that 40% of people in some way misrepresent their educational props. The number of entities that give “convenience” degrees based on “relevant life experience” is in the hundreds, and now they have hired bogus firms to confer legitimacy on them in the form of phony accreditations.

So … what if businesses stopped asking about educational credentials – at least in the early stages of the hiring process? Wouldn’t it be possible, in a thorough evaluation process, to determine if a person had a thorough and disciplined intellect, the self-awareness and diligence to continually learn and improve, and the basic subject knowledge needed for the job?

Maybe, just maybe, students would go to college not to buy their ticket to success and wealth, but rather to become better citizens.  Then we might end up with graduates who didn’t run the economy into the ground, stalemate the governance process, start wars – and lie about their college degrees.

And when you went in for that job interview, the questions wouldn’t be about where you went to school.  Instead it would be about who you really are and whether or not you are prepared – by virtue of your personhood – to contribute to the greater good of the organization and the society.


About the Author

Jim Hessler bootstrapped his way from retail work into a successful career as salesman, sales manager, Fortune 500 executive, and corporate turnaround engineer. Along the way, he developed The Leadership Platform, a proven model for training managers to become sustainably better leaders. It became the basis of his leadership primer, Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face: A Guild to Building Your Leadership Platform. Jim is the founder of Path Forward Leadership Development Services.

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