Growth in Corporate Education Prompts Meeting

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Washington--Some 30 educators from the corporate and academic worlds gathered here early this month to discuss how their separate but related efforts overlap.

The daylong symposium, sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, coincided with the publication of a foundation report detailing the dramatic growth of corporate education programs. (See Education Week, Jan. 30, 1985.)

Corporations now spend more than $40 billion a year on courses ranging from remedial English and mathematics to high-technology engineering, and some offer fully accredited advanced-degree programs at lavish, modern campuses, the study found.

Ernest L. Boyer, president of the foundation, termed the meeting "unique" and said it was meant to establish a dialogue between the two sectors of educators, whose work increasingly overlaps as corporate programs expand and traditional institutions attempt to better prepare their students for the world of work.

The report, written by Nell Eurich, a researcher and trustee of the foundation, recommends the formation of a national council that would coordinate the efforts of the two sectors and plan future educational programs "to serve the lifelong needs of adults."

"The biggest problem we have is overcoming the major gap between colleges and corporations--what they're doing and what they could be doing," said John Lott Brown, president of the University of South Florida.

Participants discussed the possibility of meeting again, perhaps in small groups, but left the issue open. A meeting to discuss the implications of Ms. Eurich's report is scheduled for June 7 at Columbia University's Teachers' College in New York.

Corporate Challenge

The growth of corporate classrooms presents a challenge to colleges and universities, but it is one to which they have begun to respond, said John S. Toll, president of the University of Maryland.

Mr. Toll cited universities' past inattention to the needs of adult students as a major contributer to the expansion of corporate classrooms. But he added that the changing nature of the student population and the labor market have created a powerful incentive for universities to adapt to the needs of non-traditional, adult students. And as universities have become more responsive to the educational needs of adults, their willingness to cooperate with corporations has increased, he said.

Cooperation with corporations in research and in job preparation is reaching the point at which universities will have to safeguard their special academic mission, he added.

Don Fronzaglia, director of human-resources development for the Polaroid Corporation, underscored Mr. Toll's comments, citing the willingness of university educators to teach corporate courses on site. He said this represented a "dramatic change" from the past.

Duplication of Effort

Although some participants said duplication of effort between corporate training programs and schools was wasteful, others said a certain amount was inevitable, and that it could stimulate the development of new programs and ideas.

For example, Charles Wolf Jr., dean of the Rand Graduate Institute, said that the Rand Corporation, a private, nonprofit research and consulting firm, decided to start its doctoral program in policy studies only after it found that few universities offered similar programs, and because efforts to coordinate their work with that of universities proved cumbersome.

Mr. Fronzaglia pointed out that while corporate classes are often viewed as an adjunct to sales, corporations are trying to accomplish more than mere "training." Mr. Fronzaglia said Polaroid's course offerings are based on a strong philosophical commitment to provide a "worthwhile working life for each member of the company," leading it to offer a broad array of educational opportunities.

But he expressed concern over the fact that Polaroid spends "equal or greater amounts" on providing literacy skills for its employees. "We keep talking about technology as if it's going to be the saving grace. I'm not sure at this point we can ignore the need for literacy in the workforce," he said.

Mr. Fronzaglia said workers shifted from one job to another are "being identified as people who can't do things we considered elementary,'' such as filling in a log book.

Commitment Questioned

Ms. Eurich pointed out that while big corporations are doing a good job of offering programs, they are "reaching a relatively small number of their own employees." And many small companies have no programs at all, she said.

Others questioned whether corporations are willing to cooperate with one another, let alone with traditional education establishments, and whether corporate training programs meet all workers' needs.

Martin Meyerson, president of the University of Pennsylvania Foundation, pointed out that corporate training programs are shaped by fear of losing valued employees to other firms. "All my instincts tell me that firms make use of training in a way that keeps it from being more attractive [for their employees] to go to their competitors," he said.

Leslie Koltai, chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District, said corporate training was related to the "very serious issue ... of upward mobility outside the corporation." He added, "I'm not so sure corporate education is available to the people it should be available to."

Vol. 04, Issue 35

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