Talent Rant: Colleges and Universities


I’ve been speaking lately with several groups of people regarding how to get a handle on their career and get on the fast track. It’s astonishing to me how many people really seem to have very little clue how they ended up where they are in their career or how to move their career forward. I suspect that this lack of ability contributes to the survey results I seem to see every other day that report that more than 50% of our US workforce is unhappy in their jobs and ready to make a move when the economy improves. While I feel that there’s a discussion to be had about personal accountability and courage related to one’s own career, today I want to rant about one of the root causes of our collective career unhappiness, Colleges and Universities.

For some time, I’ve had a bit of a chip on my shoulder related to our collegiate education system. Despite spending anywhere from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend these institutions, it seems that a huge number of people are graduating with little clue where to go next in their career or how to manage their career in a way that results in some satisfaction and happiness. Here might be a few reasons why:

  • In our Colleges and Universities, there is very little support or process in place to help an individual determine what course of study might make the most sense for them. The common recommendation to freshmen is to take some classes and see if they find something they are interested in. Alternatively, if a student arrives in college with a course of study decided (as I did with pre-Med), there’s no work done to ensure that the decision is a good one. Despite the University systems being the home of research and science, they apparently don’t think it’s worthwhile to apply any of it to helping students discover a path that might be most fulfilling for them based on their strengths, interests and passions.
  • Personal development and self-mastery aren’t taught in most Colleges or Universities. Now I know that “History of Film” is probably an interesting class, but how is it that we spend more time in colleges broadening our horizons in this way without spending any time on the skills that might truly propel us forward through our life. A class on setting goals and developing skills to support life-long learning would be much more powerful than one more elective history class.
  • Career services seem to be designed to be a life preserver for those who can’t find a job rather than being a proactive partner to students as they navigate through their education preparing for a lifetime of work. While some may argue that the point of college is to learn to drink and hook up with the opposite sex, the true purpose of college should be to prepare us for approximately 43+ years of work to follow.
I think it’s time that our college and university systems realize that clinging on to the notion of themselves as academic utopias where students can study whatever moves them is really screwing up the next 40 years of these student’s lives. I’m not suggesting that students shouldn’t be allowed to explore topics and ideas at college. But think of how truly powerful it would be if, instead, the colleges and universities recognized that their primary role is to work with these young people to help them find their natural talents and then connect those talents to a track of study and experiences that would prepare them for a long and fulfilling career.


  1. Jason – I really enjoyed your post (rant) regarding colleges and universities. Having worked for a university earlier in my career, I understand how challenging it can be to institute change on a campus. The cultural complexities of tradition, history, funding, stakeholders, and research priorities make it difficult to transform any one part of the institution. I’m sure this is not the case for all schools out there – take for instance University of Wisconsin-Stout, winner of the Malcolm Baldrige Award in higher ed a few years back. I think one major reason for the issues you suggest is the disparity between functional units on most campuses. In most cases, administrative, academic, financial, and other offices work separately from one another. As an example, a university admissions offices might collaborate only occasionally with faculty from computer science departments; the goal of career centers might not align with that of academic advising functions, and so on. I think you’re right in suggesting a new type of discussion needs to be created with students. A discussion which not only engages learners but includes everyone on campus in order to develop a consistent, open, borderless, and shared dialogue on what’s best for the student.

  2. Jason – I think you make some excellent points. Universities themselves are one of the very few major institutions that has only seen small, limited change in the last 40 or 50 years. Technology, the internet, the global nature of the economy eventually (one hopes) force higher education into making at least some of the kinds of changes you describe. I have to agree with Miguel, the university is almost certainly the worst place I have ever worked in terms of collaboration and true cross-functional problem solving. Pockets of empire remain in almost every academic department, many tenured faculty can't be bothered to listen to anyone else's views, and non-tenured faculty and staff have almost no influence at all. Tomorrow's student truly should have more power than they have now, and should be able to carve their own custom course of study from a number of institutions and experts instead of having to 'purchase' education in 4 or 5 year increments from one institution.

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