Part of the problem with the U.S. educational system is that it's loaded with fluff. When my daughter told me a few years ago that one of her electives was ballroom dancing, it became clearer than ever that colleges were simply not fulfilling their role of preparing students for the real world.
Rather than pursuing its animus against for-profit educators like Apollo Group's University of Phoenix or Corinthian College, which challenge the orthodoxy of establishment universities, the Education Department might better spend its time having mainstream schools pursue academic excellence.
So when you first hear about employees attending McDonald's (MCD 1.52%) Hamburger University or Starbucks staffers taking Barista Basics courses and earning college credits for it, you'd be forgiven for thinking they're the educational equivalent of cotton candy: a fun snack but hardly fulfilling.
In reality, businesses have had to pick up after the failures of our educational system and in response are producing graduates that are able to be functioning, productive employees.
Hamburger University churns out some 5,000 students a year. Since its founding in 1961 (in the basement of a McDonald's restaurant, no less), more than 80,000 restaurant managers, mid-level managers, and owner-operators have graduated from the institution. CNN recently took note of employees hitting the books at corporate campuses and said that the American Council on Education, or ACE, finds their training courses to be of an equivalent value in college credits. More than a dozen colleges accept Hamburger University credits, including institutions like Penn State and Drexel University.
That's a somewhat similar agenda to the more secretive work being done by Apple (AAPL 4.08%) at its Apple University, which has been identified as inculcating a managerial way of doing business along the lines of Hewlett-Packard's HP Way; though, like Pixar University's programs in fine arts and filmmaking, it's also seen as providing professional development.
Graduate to the next level
While corporate universities are as diverse as General Electric's (GE 2.27%) Crotonville -- which started in 1956 and is the oldest such institution -- and Jiffy Lube University, the oil change division of Royal Dutch Shell, the idea driving them is all the same: providing employees with an educational opportunity to excel.
ACE also finds courses outside the traditional classroom valid at Microsoft, Paychex, Walgreen, Wal-Mart, and Disney.
I owe my soul to the company store
Unlike the old mining companies that tethered their employees to them through debt at the company store, the corporate university is a business education that transcends the traditional nexus among student, university, and business. Tuition for a McDegree costs a student nothing. Since our colleges and universities are failing so miserably in their task, do we really need them and the devastating costs of their tuition debt at all?
The higher-education bubble is about to burst, but it could be the corporate universities that move to the head of the class. Maybe those businesses willing to invest most in their employees are the ones we should invest most in ourselves.