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The Challenge of 'Corporate Classrooms'

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The schooling enterprise built by America's businesses to train workers--complete with campuses, faculties, and courses from the basic-skills to the doctoral level--has quietly become a powerful rival of its more traditional counterparts in scope and sophistication, contends a new report on the so-called "shadow" education system.

"Too often overlooked by people in government, in traditional education, and in industry itself," the now $40-billion-plus annual investment in corporate education offers a challenge to other educational institutions that has yet to be responded to, says a preliminary draft of the report issued this week by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

"It is not a shadow and it is second to none in the integrity of its programs and purposes," the report states.

Noting that the corporate educational enterprise is underwritten by the public through tax write-offs and higher consumer prices, the report says it must be viewed as "a public trust." And it calls, in a key recommendation, for the establishment of a national "Strategic Council for Educational Development" to help all sectors of education coordinate their activities as a "long-term capital investment in human resources."

Two-Year Study

The report, Corporate Classrooms: The Learning Business, is the result of a two-year study conducted by Nell Eurich, a researcher with the foundation, of the scope of the corporate training system and the issues it raises. It was written by Ms. Eurich, with a forward by Ernest L. Boyer, the foundation's president.

Corporations may now educate as many students as the nation's four-year colleges and universities, the report says, not only in areas of traditional concern to business, such as management and sales, but also in fields ranging from remedial mathematics and English to high-technology engineering.

Many of the biggest firms--such as the International Business Machines Corporation, Texas Instruments, and Hewlett Packard--spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on education, above and beyond their contributions to the nation's schools. IBM, for instance, spent some $500 million on education in 1982, and perhaps as much as $700 million in 1984, according to the report.

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'Corporate Classrooms' Study

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Some corporations are building college-like campuses, developing innovative teaching methods, and utilizing the latest in educational technology. They are also seeking--and getting--accreditation for their courses, with at least 18 corporate colleges now accredited to award degrees, the study says.

"It is from this private sector--with its financial resources--that the new institutions and colleges are coming," Ms. Eurich writes. "It may not be too fanciful to foresee 100--if not hundreds--of corporate degree programs in the next 50 years."

Implicit Criticism

But while corporate extension into traditional academic areas represents a recognition of the value of educating the whole person, it also implicitly indicts the nation's schools and colleges for failing to prepare students for "the reality of the workplace," the report says.

"Corporations are certainly not deliberately, or altruistically, in the business of education," it contends. "They are in production of goods and services. But to do this well, they have been forced--often reluctantly--to educate. ...Implied is an indictment of the schools, particularly in the areas of language and computation."

The report cites a 1983 Council for Public Resources finding that 75 percent of corporations surveyed offer some form of basic-skills program.

"It is unacceptable that corporate America is compelled to engage in remedial education and teach the basics," Mr. Boyer writes in his introduction. "One important lesson from corporate education is that the quality of public education in the nation must be strengthened."

"More Effective Alliance"

At the same time, the intrusion of corporations into more advanced fields of education challenges the nation's traditional institutions of higher education to better define their roles and demonstrates the need for "a more effective alliance" of the two, the report says.

"Beyond basics, more and more companies are teaching analytical skills and critical thinking, conceptual bases for transferable knowledge, foreign languages, psychology and sociology, economics, college algebra, physics and other courses in technology," the report states.

"These studies--clearly the domain of colleges and universities--should not need to be duplicated in corporate classrooms, at least not for college graduates."

This growing duplication "implies inadequacies in the educational establishment," and suggests that colleges and universities "might well re-examine their curriculum and requirements for graduation to accomplish more effectively their own professed purposes" without mimicking the corporate colleges, the report says.

Strategic Council

The strategic council proposed in the report would assess the nation's emerging educational needs, identify and review resources, and recommend policies and programs to retrain workers and "strengthen America's competitive position."

"The goal here is not to establish a national manpower policy, which has never been effective in the Unit-ed States; rather the challenge is to give guidance to the public and private sectors, to suggest strategies for federal and state action, and ways in which colleges and the corporate sector can more effectively serve the lifelong education of adults," Ms. Eurich writes.

The study cites several model cooperative efforts, such as General Motors Corporation's arrangement with 45 community colleges nationwide. The colleges train G.M. technicians, while the giant auto firm trains the schools' faculty members.

Another cooperative venture--the new National Technological University--involves 15 universities and 12 major corporations. ntu courses are beamed by satellite to corporate classrooms around the country.

But corporate education has evolved mostly on its own, the study says.

"The education and training programs of industry and the traditional education system have basically been parallel developments--not an integrated relationship," Ms. Eurich notes. "They have certainly never been synchronized, and traditional education has lagged behind industrial needs from the very beginning. ..."

Early Years

The study traces the origins of corporate education to the industrial revolution of the 18th century. Far-sighted entrepreneurs, it says, viewed workers as "a form of capital," who had to be educated to perform specific tasks and function within emerging corporate systems.

Rapid technological change "required re-education of workers that would keep the labor force as finely tuned and up-to-date as the machinery," the report says. "Only individual industries could offer--or afford--this type of education."

Corporate schools first appeared in the 1870's, the report says, grew during the early years of the 20th century, and experienced "colossal growth" in the 1950's.

According to the report, 60 to 80 percent of corporate education is ''in-house" and relatively few workers take advantage of corporate tuition-refund policies for courses taken outside the workplace.

Many corporate classes deal with management, the study says, but "technological personnel are now receiving ever greater attention, and there is a marked increase in the numbers of advanced training courses offered."

Teaching methods are often innovative, using the latest in communications equipment. "The assortment of teaching methods is exceedingly wide and experimental, especially when compared to the average college or university classroom," the study says.

Not Trying to Compete

Despite appearances, corporations are not trying to compete with the traditional education system, Ms. Eurich says. In fact, corporate giving to education has increased by 46 percent in the past four years, and totaled $1.29 billion in 1983--the most ever.

Rather, corporations are trying to fill perceived gaps in the traditional education system, according to the report: "They simply give education to compensate for what is lacking ... America's business has become its own educational provider."

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