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The Academe-Academic Complex

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In 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower warned the country about the "military-industrial complex." Today, it needs to be more concerned about the academe-academic complex.

What is that complex? It is the back-rubbing relationship between the administrators in most of America's higher education institutions and the blind Greek chorus of educators on their faculties. Together, they have perpetrated the myth that a college degree will provide career security in today's turbulent global economy.

Here's how one representatives of the complex put it just last week. "College and career skills are the same," opined Ken Wagner, the New York State associate commissioner of education for curriculum.

If that's so, why are legions of recent graduates moving back in with Mom and Dad because they can't find work? And, why did an Associated Press study released last year find that over half of bachelor degree-holders under the age of 25 -- an astonishing 53.6 percent of recent college graduates -- were either jobless or underemployed?

So, here's the truth the complex doesn't want you to know. Today's college degree does not provide career security or even a decent shot at a job. And, we mislead working men and women when we claim it does.

Now, to be perfectly clear, a college education is absolutely essential for many jobs in a modern economy. It is not, however, sufficient for sustained or even initial employment -- at least as that education is currently delivered.

What's missing? An equally rigorous education in the body of knowledge and set of skills required for effective career self-management.

Why? Because for the past 75 years, America's colleges and universities have been graduating career idiot savants. They've taught their students a whole lot about this or that field of study, but absolutely nothing about how to make a career in those fields.

They could get away with such a constricted view of higher education because, until the 1990s, most American employers guided their employees' careers for them. They put them on a corporate career ladder and guided them along that narrow structure toward a gold watch.

Today, they don't. The pressure of unrelenting global competition has forced employers to dismantle the expensive infrastructure required to provide such support. As a consequence, not only are recent college graduates lost in today job market and workplace, but so too are many of their parents and older siblings. That situation, as much as the economy, is the cause of today's long-term unemployment.

How should we correct this shortcoming? By creating a counter-complex of engaged parents, lawmakers and government officials. This complex should refuse to provide the financial support on which these institutions and educators depend unless they reform. And, the reform should require that they abandon their exclusive and obsolete mindset.

They don't think the body of knowledge and set of skills required for sophisticated career self-management is rigorous enough to be included in the curriculum. In their opinion, there's not enough to study and what's there is simply too... well, practical to be a part of a college education.

Contrast that view down their noses with what's happening in China. There, every student as a requirement of graduation must take a credit-granting course in the principles and practices of managing one's career effectively.

From discovering one's inherent talent to setting effective short and long goals, from dealing with the inevitable obstacles that arise in a career to ensuring one's expertise stays at the state-of-the-art, there is more than enough to be taught, more than enough to be learned in a career self-management course of study, and it's high time the academe-academic complex embraced it.