What do you learn in college?

As you know the topic of the future of the university, the role of MOOCs, and online learning, is highly topical these days. I happen to be interested in it too so I refer you to this David Brooks Article, called, The Practical University. It’s an interesting angle.

However I want to pull a single quote out of that:

“Think about Sheryl Sandberg’s recent book, “Lean In.” Put aside the debate about the challenges facing women in society. Focus on the tasks she describes as being important for anybody who wants to rise in this economy: the ability to be assertive in a meeting; to disagree pleasantly; to know when to interrupt and when not to; to understand the flow of discussion and how to change people’s minds; to attract mentors; to understand situations; to discern what can change and what can’t.” (from New York Times – The Practical University)

I don’t know if that’s David Brooks or Sheryl Sandberg speaking, but it does make we want to read her book. Anyway, watch how I turn this post into something about Olin College of Engineering 🙂

Why is it so important (in my opinion) that college students get lots of experience working in teams from the start? Because indeed it teaches them exactly those skills in italics above. And they are indeed very important skills. And don’t assume that these skills and experiences are commonplace across colleges. In my experience this is one of the major differences of how Olin approaches its mission.

Preparation needed

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what kind of preparation college students need as they graduate to pursue their futures. Thomas Friedman writes an excellent column in the New York Times where he says:

“Look at the news these days from the most dynamic sector of the U.S. economy — Silicon Valley. Facebook is now valued near $100 billion, Twitter at $8 billion, Groupon at $30 billion, Zynga at $20 billion and LinkedIn at $8 billion. These are the fastest-growing Internet/social networking companies in the world, and here’s what’s scary: You could easily fit all their employees together into the 20,000 seats in Madison Square Garden, and still have room for grandma. They just don’t employ a lot of people, relative to their valuations, and while they’re all hiring today, they are largely looking for talented engineers.

Indeed, what is most striking when you talk to employers today is how many of them have used the pressure of the recession to become even more productive by deploying more automation technologies, software, outsourcing, robotics — anything they can use to make better products with reduced head count and health care and pension liabilities. That is not going to change. And while many of them are hiring, they are increasingly picky. They are all looking for the same kind of people — people who not only have the critical thinking skills to do the value-adding jobs that technology can’t, but also people who can invent, adapt and reinvent their jobs every day, in a market that changes faster than ever.” (From The New York Times: The Start-Up of You)

This is really true. If your life’s ambition is to pursue an advanced degree then often a college degree is great preparation. For many though, their life’s passion is to join or create a startup and have a really big impact on the world.