College needs Change

From a few years ago, but Public “Education” is still schooling today. No?

US academic institutions need to change what they teach students and to improve their own efforts to commercialize innovation.

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According to McKinsey & Company (New York, New York), the growing US gig economy accounts for 30% to 40% of the current US workforce. And in 2019, the New York Times reported that independent workers and temporary workers make up more than half of Google’s (Alphabet; Mountain View, California) workforce. Diane Mulcahy, an adjunct lecturer at Babson College (Wellesley, Massachusetts) and the author of a 2016 book about the gig economy, says that universities need to shift their focus from preparing students for full-time jobs to teaching students skills that enable self-employment, entrepreneurialism, and management of “a portfolio of gigs.” So far, few universities have moved in this direction.

One skill that academic institutions perhaps should not teach students is how to make the most of failure. Many people view failures as events that can improve skills and teach important lessons. Indeed, graduation speeches and speeches by managers commonly include phrases such as daring to fail and failing forward. But University of Chicago Booth School of Business (University of Chicago; Chicago, Illinois) professor Ayelet Fishbach and postdoctoral fellow Lauren Eskreis-Winkler conducted multiple experiments and found that failure actually undermines learning. Dr. Fishbach explains that “it just doesn’t feel good to fail, so people tune out…. To the extent that failures are being ignored, to the extent that we actually tune out rather than tune in, then there is no learning whatsoever from failures.”

US universities also need to improve their ability to commercialize the innovations they develop. Although US universities often tout this ability, they are actually responsible for only a small proportion of US patents and start-ups. The US National Science Board (Alexandria, Virginia) reports that academic institutions were responsible for only 6,639 of the 304,126 patents that the US Patent and Trademark Office (Alexandria, Virginia) granted in 2016 (the most recent year for which this figure is available). And according to technology-transfer-tracking nonprofit AUTM (Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois), between 1996 and 2015, universities and colleges spun off an average of only 600 start-ups per year—a tiny fraction of the approximately 400,000 annual start-ups that the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (US Department of Labor; Washington, DC) reported.


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