The Educational Program Relevance Gap: The Case for Ashford University’s Organizational Management Advisory Board
University leaders, worldwide, are forced to re-think the relevance of degree programs as they face the challenges of marketplace demands on their graduates. Global accounting firm Ernst and Young conducted research which indicates that “about 40 percent of existing university degrees will soon be obsolete and traditional undergraduate or postgraduate degrees could disappear within a decade” (Singhal, 2018, para.1).
Instead of being complacent and embracing these grim predictions, there is so much more that academics can do to ensure the continued relevance of their degree programs. Listening to different voices within industries while providing essential content in the disciplines of business and technology are critical for a real-world degree.
The push to teach only needed skills jeopardizes the core purpose of education. Higher education was originally positioned to develop and nourish young minds, to create a thirst for lifelong learning, and to help them not be self-absorbed and self-centered and aware of the issues facing our society. The narrow-minded skill-driven spectrum is replacing the broad-minded educational format throughout the academic world. Considering today’s environment of rapid technological changes, many of the needed skills become obsolete by the time students finish their degree. Through “teaching only the needed skills” focus, academia created a very limited framework, with graduates being successful only if their desired career path remains unchanged (no longer a very plausible scenario).
Considering today’s environment of rapid technological changes, many of the needed skills become obsolete by the time students finish their degree.
Lennon indicates that “a third of American companies’ report having job openings for which they cannot find qualified workers with the correct skills. Economists project that by 2020, more than 60 percent of new jobs will require more than a high school diploma, but about half of those new jobs will not require a four-year degree” (2016, para. 6).
Why then are so many companies struggling to find candidates with the required set of skills? Higher education’s emphasis on relevance and applicability of skills and learning does not seem to have solved the problems. Creating such a narrow mindset of a career-focused educational model may severely impact students’ ability to access a broad range of educational concepts needed for future leaders.
Either businesses or universities, or perhaps both, do not communicate effectively, or even more likely, the skillsets within many jobs change at a more rapid speed that a four-year career-driven degree program can follow. Therefore, the skill-driven approach does not work if one is not capable of adjusting the curriculum as processes change within a particular industry.
One of Ashford University’s Solutions
The Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Management and the Master of Arts in Organizational Management degree programs at the Forbes School of Business and Technology™ at Ashford University attempt to address these concerns by providing their students with the necessary tools to compete and hopefully excel beyond their peers within both domestic and international business arenas across several different industries. Addressing that goal, the Organizational Management Advisory Board, formed in November of 2017, started with the aggressive pursuit of the alignment of the undergraduate and graduate degree programs to the industrial demands increasing its value proposition to future employers.
The Organizational Management Advisory Board provides support and counsel to the academic leadership of the undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Members of the Advisory Board are industry leaders, innovators in their field, and international entrepreneurs. Members offer their expertise and experience serving as advocates for the online degree programs. The diversity of the board is no coincidence, the degree programs’ leadership wanted to cover the wide spectrum of industries, within which organizational management graduates seek their new or expanding career path.
Spring 2018 Meeting
The Advisory Board membership consists of Mr. Sam Peluso, retired Wall Street Executive, author and a speaker; Mr. Mehraban Iraninejad, Senior Director of Engineering at Qualcomm Technologies; and Mr. Clifford Williams, CEO of Aspera Group, an international distribution and logistics company. The board met in San Diego with master’s Program Chair, Dr. Maja Zelihic; bachelor’s Program Chair, Dr. Jim Jeremiah, and master’s Core Faculty John Bathke, JD.
As the conversation started, each member shared his vast experience and provided very specific input when it comes to the content of each master’s course, skills that graduates need to have to be successful within their respective industries, and paths on equipping future graduates with the skills in the most demand. The bachelor’s degree program is in revision from a Program Review, and the new version will be evaluated by the Board in future meetings.
A Wall Street veteran who has weathered financial storms for 44 years and who has achieved and maintained the top quintile for production and new accounts as a VP of Government bond sales, Sam highlighted the importance of being able to recognize what you are good at and what you don’t have skills to do. He mentioned having to define for himself which career paths were not for him in order to be able to switch to one that made him quite successful. Having skills in order to capitalize on what you do best and how to use those skills as a building block is important. The organizational management online programs need to do better to ensure their graduates can build the needed skills, recognize and address their shortcomings, and capitalize on understanding each to choose the best career paths for them.
Furthermore, Sam shared his perspective on surviving the 2008 collapse of financial markets. He explained the position of leaders and cyclical nature of financial markets as a valuable perspective recognition. During the crisis, Sam’s leadership skills and experience motivated others to persist and continue handling their daily functions as efficiently as possible thereby contributing to the recovery of the markets. Another lesson he learned is that being the fastest one to act may not be the best approach; reflecting on a situation and then deciding after some delay may prove better in the long run.
A senior engineer at Qualcomm, Mehraban shared his perspective of what type of candidates fast-paced technological leaders require, emphasizing the concept of adaptability and open-mindedness that are at times hard to teach directly but can be introduced through many courses activities. He thinks that Ashford’s master’s program needs to provide opportunities for students to practice their speaking skills, a skillset of incredible importance regardless of job level. Mehraban spoke of his personal journey as an immigrant from Iran due to unfortunate events of the Iranian revolution. He overcame the odds and became an incredible success within corporate America.
Everyone assumes that having high technical skills and an analytical mind are two variables of the utmost importance for the field of engineering, but Mehraban spent some time sharing some common sense and logical behavioral patterns graduates need to embrace to be successful regardless of the field.
CEO of distribution and logistics international company Aspera Group, which currently operates within the Caribbean markets, Clifford shared his experience pertaining to global operations and doing business internationally. The Board and faculty members agreed with Clifford in recognizing that the current curriculum has opportunities to add global perspective in each of the courses. Clifford spent some time sharing examples of international business etiquettes, meeting protocols, and subtle non-verbal cues which may make a difference between doing business with someone or losing a business deal. Aspera Group originated out of the CEO’s personal passion for helping his native country of Haiti with earthquake relief efforts and offsetting the monopoly of international distributors and suppliers. The lessons of corporate social responsibility have been integrated into the approach the Aspera Group takes in doing business in situations many entrepreneurs would avoid.
The concept of perseverance while navigating a difficult business arena needs to be addressed within the master’s curriculum steering away from studying some clear-cut cases in ideal scenarios and implementing more of the real-life business scenarios one may encounter. Navigating uncharted waters of global corporate compliance, international business etiquette, and cultural understanding opportunities highlighted Clifford’s entrepreneurial spirit. Through his experiences, the Forbes School of Business and Technology academic team captured some concrete practice activities and tips to be implemented within the bachelor’s and master’s courses in organizational management thereby educating our students on some of Mr. Williams’ key concepts. The organizational management curriculum for both undergraduate and graduate levels currently must close the gap in global content which will be in high demand for all graduates who will engage in doing business globally or working for global business.
A Promising Start
Meetings like the one held in San Diego should continue to ensure continuity of dialogue between the industry leaders and educators. Neither sector can operate efficiently in its own bubble, and cooperation between both can result in a more relevant curriculum, ensuring it teaches the needed skills in the high and ever-changing demand of the business world. As university leaders, we need to get back to the main pillars of education, broadening students’ horizons, encouraging their creative and critical minds, and ensuring that education provides individuals with innovative and analytical capabilities to tackle the ever-changing job market.
This proactive approach aims to make Forbes School of Business and Technology graduates better prepared for global business challenges and equipped with the knowledge and skills which will ensure sustainability and progress of organizations within which they operate.
Written by Dr. Maja Zelihic, Program Chair MA in Organizational Management, Forbes School of Business and Technology at Ashford University, and Dr. Jim Jeremiah, Program Chair BA in Organizational Management, Forbes School of Business and Technology at Ashford University.
Pictured in photo above from left: John P. Bathke, JD, Core Faculty; Dr. Maja Zelihic; Clifford Williams; Mehraban Iraninejad; Sam Peluso; Dr. Jim Jeremiah
Lennon, C. (2016). What Is The Career Readiness Crisis And How Is It Affecting Young
People Today? Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jpmorganchase/2016/02/12/what-is-the-career-readiness-crisis-and-how-is-it-affecting-young-people-today/#e3bbb2156ac1.
Singhal, P. (2018). 'You don't learn that at university': 40 percent of degrees will soon be
obsolete, report finds. WA Today. Retrieved from https://www.watoday.com.au/education/university-degrees-obsolete-report-ernst-young-20180501-p4zcn5.html.