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11:19am EDT August 20, 2004
Corporate executives often express frustration with the perceived sluggish pace at which college curriculum changes attempt to keep up with real-world needs.

One of their biggest concerns is that business schools are slow to make modifications that reflect the realities of the business world. A current example is the concern with the lack of coverage of ethical issues as these pertain to business situations.

Criticism directed at higher education's snail-like pace in reacting to the needs of the market is often well-aimed. Many schools do react slowly to change. However, executives may not be fully aware of the reasons for the delay.

Additionally, with a little effort on their part, they can personally affect the pace and direction of change and, consequently, improve how higher education responds to the needs of corporate stakeholders.

The curriculum process
Most university curriculum changes require at least three key decision points. First, faculty within the affected discipline area must support the change since it will impact their courses. At some schools, this is a problem if faculty lack the motivation to change, a full understanding of the issues or hard data reflecting the need for a change.

Second, curriculum change is often a time-consuming process involving approvals of committees containing faculty who are outside the directly affected subject areas. Convincing these folks that modifications are required can be difficult if they do not appreciate the need for change.

Finally, school administrators must be on board with new curriculum proposals, particularly changes that affect faculty positions or increase capital expenditures, such as requiring additional or upgraded facilities. In general, this change cycle from an initial curriculum proposal to implementation of new or updated courses can take one to two years or longer.

Importance of advisory groups
This may cast a gloomy shadow on corporate expectations that higher education is at the forefront of preparing the work force with cutting-edge knowledge and skills. Yet, there is good news.

Most colleges and universities have significantly increased activities designed to build stronger relations with regional, national and international corporations. In particular, there is a strong push among business schools to include corporate personnel in the program and curriculum development process. Many schools have established advisory boards that meet with school officials on a regular basis to examine issues facing the school and individual programs.

West Chester University has done this with a business advisory council made up of executives, business owners and others from large corporations and smaller firms. Such corporate executive groups have become a vital sounding board for initiating curriculum changes. For example, in 1999, West Chester's innovative Technology and E-Commerce MBA program was created and approved in less than six months with the assistance of corporate supporters.

Getting involved
For executives and their senior staff, being involved in an advisory capacity with universities can yield a number of benefits, including:

  • Direct input into program and curriculum changes
  • Exposure to high-quality students and student groups
  • Interactions with expert faculty, including partnering in research programs
  • Access to university resources
  • Association with school officials
  • Networking opportunities with other members of the advisory board

Executives should understand that most institutions of higher education welcome their involvement, especially if the executive is a graduate of the institution or if the executive's firm offers employment opportunities for the school's graduates. Executives interested in being involved should seek out school officials to learn about such opportunities.

While initially seats on advisory boards may be filled, openings do occur on a regular basis. To prepare for a role on the board, executives should offer:

  • To meet on an informal basis with school officials
  • To serve as guest lecturer/speaker or part-time faculty member
  • To give seminars for students and faculty covering important topics
  • To do on-campus job recruiting and interviewing
  • To provide student internship opportunities
  • To provide funding support for school programs

The input of corporate executives into program and curriculum decisions plays a valuable role at many colleges and universities. They will find that their involvement is encouraged and does make a difference.

PAUL CHRIST, Ph.D., is an associate professor of marketing and director of MBA programs at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. For more information on the WCU MBA, visit www.wcumba.org or call (610) 425-5000. CHUCK RUMFORD is director of corporate programs for WCU's College of Business and Public Affairs. For more information on corporate programs, visit training.btcwcu.org or call (610) 425-2695. West Chester University serves the educational and training needs of students and corporate clients from its off-campus, state-of-the-art Graduate Business Center located off the Boot Road exit of Route 202 in West Chester, Pa.