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The President’s Seminar On Life Skills

Real World 101: A New Paradigm in Higher Education

By Nido Qubein, president of High Point University


What is the purpose of higher education?

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:


Course Objectives

  • To teach you how to gain a positive self-esteem. Positive self-esteem can give you the character to face any obstacle that stands in your way. With high self-esteem, you can meet the most disappointing and discouraging situations with faith, hope, and courage. The primary difference between winners and losers is attitude. Winners make their goals; losers make excuses.
  • To teach you the art and science of goal-setting. Most of the things that make life worth living require careful introspection, sufficient time to develop, and plenty of hard work. Setting goals and consistently working toward them is the only way to control your life. In this course you will learn the seven guidelines that are followed by the most successful people in America.
  • To teach you the fundamentals of leadership.  Leaders are made, not born. Even if you don’t want to pursue a career that is traditionally thought of as requiring leadership, you can certainly benefit from knowing how to persuade, influence, and negotiate with others. In this course you will learn the primary principles of leadership and explore how you can use them to craft a successful life.
  • To enlighten you on the importance of fiscal literacy and stewardship. A mini-crash course in economics: learn how to manage your own money for long-term prosperity. Knowing how to save, invest, avoid bad debt, and otherwise make sound financial decisions.
  • To instruct you on the importance of health and wellness. It may surprise you to see this topic in a Life Skills course, but think about it: what is more central to quality of life than quality of health? There’s no point in having a brilliant, purposeful career if you don’t feel well enough (or live long enough) to enjoy it.
  • To teach you the basics of time management. Time is your greatest treasure. If you don’t make a constant decision to invest it in the pursuit of your goals and objectives, you are throwing it away. You will learn practical techniques for analyzing your time habits, keeping daily and weekly to-do lists, getting organized, and yes, making time for leisure, friendship, and spiritual growth.
  • To help you gain effective communication skills and make persuasive presentations. Through effective communication we exchange information, ideas, and opinions with other people, we integrate our lives into the human race, and we make happen the things we want to happen. Communicating effectively is the “master key” to success. In this course you’ll learn how to get your point across and listen to the points of others.


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.