College Students Want Straight Line to Entrepreneurial Success Institutions of higher learning must increasingly foster an entrepreneurial atmosphere.

By Barbara Mannino

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


It only makes sense. If students are pursuing higher education to improve their employment prospects, colleges and universities must turn out students who are well equipped to meet the demands of the workplace.

Or so say 27,000 students from 22 countries in a recent study out of Laureate International Universities and Zogby Analytics.

One stipulation: Institutions of higher learning must increasingly foster an entrepreneurial atmosphere. Forward-thinking academics and business leaders agree.

Used to be, you could not use the words education and marketing in the same sentence, let alone dare mention entrepreneurialism. "These were déclassé" says John Zogby, senior analyst with Zogby Analytics.

The blinders have been causing a disservice to students. "There is a problem in the workplace with incoming college grads not being prepared enough for the grueling and sometimes ruthless world of work," says Dr. Joanie Connell, president and CEO of Flexible Work Solutions and author of Flying Without a Helicopter: Preparing Young People for Work and Life. "Students are not being set up to be leaders (let alone independent employees)."

Fortunately, academics and business leaders are speaking out and making a big push for career-oriented education that includes paid apprenticeships, courses taught by employers, lifelong learning through online courses and more flexible course schedules.

Beyond Your Own Business

It's not about producing the next Mark Zuckerberg, says Douglas L. Becker, founder, chairman and CEO of Laureate Education Inc. "That model inspires people to work hard and think big." But Becker says the real goal of higher education is to give students the broadest skill set to meet the challenges they'll experience in their careers.

"Let's be clear," says Dr. Lena T. Rodriguez, program dean for the School of Business, University of Phoenix. "The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in today's business environment, but it is not limited to just those individuals starting their own businesses." Rodriguez says it encompasses individuals interested in innovation within other organizations: intrapreneurs in a traditional corporate environment, socialpreneurs in a business directed toward social good and nonprofitpreneurs in a nonprofit group.

Related: Why You Should Strive to Be a Lifelong Learner

"Organizations are really open to hearing what innovations individuals within their organization can contribute," Rodriguez says. And some colleges are looking to industry, business leaders and successful alumni to help develop appropriate higher education curriculums, she says. "This keeps us relevant."

Soft Skills and Apprenticeships

Being relevant also means teaching soft skills. In fact, 93 percent of students surveyed say colleges and universities should focus on teaching soft skills like accountability, nimbleness, negotiation, networking, collaboration and communication, the last which Becker tags a definite priority in today's workforce. When you communicate effectively you can share the contagion of a great idea. Plus, good communicators take complex ideas and express them so others can understand them. That's an important capability when so many jobs are being outsourced and people in companies big and small are working in virtual teams.

Rodriguez cautions against building a stone wall between soft and hard skills. She says soft skills can be taught within courses that train for function. For example, these days marketing and social media require technological savvy, but they are not divorced from the need for the more intuitive, know-your-customer sensibility. A good, or conversely bad, customer-engagement philosophy impacts company earnings. "Soft skills are nested within the bottom line," she says.

Related: 10 Free Online Courses That Can Benefit Every Entrepreneur

Paid apprenticeships which are woven into the curriculum also drive home this mix of function and style. Becker describes these apprenticeships and internships as "the clinical experience in the middle [of higher education]"—a time when students are on the job, dealing with real people, real customers and real problems and watching how professionals successfully, or sometimes not so successfully, deal with them. Becker says this experience must be integrated with classroom curriculum. Plus, students must receive credit for it.

"This is far different from a school putting 1,800 internships on a school website then letting the students fend for themselves," he says.

So overall, how well are colleges and universities actually doing? For the most part, the thousands of students polled are optimistic for themselves and their futures—even more so for future generations of students.

While experts hold a dimmer view, they offer hope. "Institutions, particularly those who have to be innovative, are responding enough so that more and more students can see the changes taking place with flexibility in scheduling, more linkages with employers and entrepreneurs, and more team building skill sets," says Zogby.

High school students should take heed, says Connell, and place life skills—traits like resilience, independence and creativity—high on their list of requirements when choosing a college.

Once parents and students get wind of shortcomings in the way colleges and universities prepare their graduates for work, they will demand more skill building from universities and external partners, Connell says.

Zogby agrees: "Heavy competition and the need to show results have forced schools to hustle, be more results-oriented, and be able to draw a straight line between the degree or certificates they offer and success later in life."

Related: 5 Leadership Lessons From Being a Student Again

Wavy Line
Barbara Mannino

Freelance Writer

Barbara Mannino is a freelance journalist and content strategist who has spent her career covering leadership, education and personal finance in the newsroom and on the corporate side of the desk. She has written for FOX Business Network, and ghostwritten blogs that have appeared in the Huffington Post. Mannino has provided content strategy and created content for brands including TIAA-CREF, JPMorganChase and BusinessEdge Solutions a part of EMC. 

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