By Nido Qubein, president of High Point University
It’s a question we should ask ourselves daily.
Answers, of course, will vary. Young people attend college to learn critical thinking; to gain exposure to different ideas and philosophies; to illuminate their minds with eons of collected insights on history, literature, art, science, mathematics; to revel in the sheer joy of learning; to forge lifelong friendships; to learn to function – laundry, food, budget – all while outside the safety of the nest.
These are all valid reasons to pursue the liberal arts college experience. There is one significant reason, however, that encompasses all of them: most students attend college to prepare for life in the Real World.
I am not suggesting that broadening the mind through immersion in theory does not prepare one for life beyond college. I firmly believe it does. I am merely pointing out that there is a wealth of practical knowledge that students must grasp in order to succeed in the world outside the classroom. The corridors of life demand an expanded skill set than do the hallowed halls of academia. We must do a better job of teaching these skills.
It used to be accepted practice for employers to take young hires under their wing and teach them what they need to know for their job: how the business world works, how to communicate, what to wear to client meetings, how to manage their time, how to manage organizational resources and why these last two items are actually the same.
Fresh-out-of-college employees were viewed as apprentices. To carefully groom them was an investment in the future. The reward was a loyal employee who would be a company asset for many years to come.
Those slow-paced, sepia-toned days are gone forever. We’re in the middle of an uncertain economy where many jobs that were once havens for recent graduates-customer-service call center work, for instance-have moved overseas. Competition for the remaining jobs is fierce. I have spent enough time consulting with countless leaders from all walks of life to know all too well that there are major challenges faced by America and the world.
The harsh truth is that many companies today view new college grads as a hiring risk. Employers don’t have the time, money, or wherewithal to teach them the practical skills they need to jump the breach between liability and asset.
This is an unfortunate reality for young people who, sheepskin in hand, strike out in search of their first “real” job. But for universities with the vision to teach these Real World skills to their students, it’s also an unprecedented opportunity.
I would like to share with you how our institution, High Point University, is working to bridge the chasm between university life and, well, life. We have instituted a successful and popular mandatory course. Every freshman student is enrolled in a fall semester course, which I teach and facilitate.
Called Life Skills, this course gives students a hefty dose of Real World pragmatism as they enter HPU. The skills they learn are meant to help them succeed in all aspects of life-academic, professional, and personal. By taking the course as freshmen, the rest of their course work is often experienced through the lens of practical application. It sets the tone for developing an intentional life plan.
The best way to describe what Life Skills is all about is to share an excerpt from the course brochure:
Since High Point University started sharing these practical concepts with freshmen, we’ve experienced an outpouring of interest from potential students and approving parents. Faculty, too, are both supportive and encouraging. In fact, now I teach a companion course for senior students as well.