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Member News: C.C. Eship / NACCE Journal Summer/Fall 2009

Raise the Sails or Batten Down the Hatches? Entrepreneurship Education in Challenging Times

Friday, September 18, 2009   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Matthew Montoya
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By Ginger Clark, Ph.D.

Director, Technical Programs

Hillsborough Community College, Tampa, FL


In October of 1991, the strongest storm in recorded history occurred off the coast of Gloucester, MA. It was labeled the "perfect storm” because atmospheric conditions allowed the energy of three separate storms to merge into one. A survey of the environment in which entrepreneurship education currently exists bears a striking resemblance. The growing influence of the millennial generation, coupled with a shifting economy, is converging to create challenging but fertile opportunities for all.

Born after 1980, and arriving on college campuses in 2000, the 80-million-strong millennials have been generally characterized as optimistic, collaborative, technically literate, and civic-minded. Their impact on shaping community colleges, both in and outside the classroom, is already clearly evident. The instructor-centered chalk talk of the past is yielding to interactive, group-oriented learning activities. Community involvement, once viewed as an extra-curricular option, is now an integral part of many service learning courses. Yet, these changes signal only the first wave of millennial influence as their enrollment numbers will peak in 2010, and by 2012, they will represent 75 percent of overall college enrollments.

What additional changes can we expect? More importantly, how will we respond? David Bornstein’s succinct characterization of the millennial generation may hold the clues. Bornstein describes the millennials as being driven by two forces: 1) a desire to maintain a balance between work and life, and 2) a hunger for a career and life of impact. A recent Business Week report suggests that the millennial generation’s drive for financial and personal success is already transforming undergraduate business programs as evidenced by their growing emphasis on green businesses, sustainability, and social entrepreneurship.

These programmatic changes are occurring within many of our programs as well, but we must now accelerate the process. For while the millennial generation’s interest in these areas is producing changes in education, there is an equally compelling force at work in the labor market. An October, 2008 report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors suggests the urgency of the matter by projecting that the green economy will generate 4.2 million jobs over the next several decades and could account for 10 percent of new job growth over the next 30 years. In addition, the emerging green labor market demands that we work collectively to develop career pathways for those in the new sectors. Finally, we need to develop success measures for our graduates, and ultimately our programs, that encompass both economic and social impact. To this end, the development of social entrepreneurship courses within a few colleges is encouraging. However, there is much to be accomplished if we are to fill the growing need for creative, skilled individuals who can contribute both to the bottom line of their organization and the quality of life within their community.

In the midst of responding to changes brought on by the millennial generation, we must also contend with a rapidly changing economy. Whereas agriculture, manufacturing, and information successively fueled our economic activity and shaped our educational programs, creativity is now emerging as the next dominant force. Author Daniel Pink labels this new paradigm the Conceptual Age because it will be characterized by a shift in which highly valued "knowledge” workers, or those who possess logical, linear, and computer-like thinking abilities will give way to those who are creative, "big picture oriented” and empathic. Western historian Patricia Limerick is fond of saying that any time you experience a paradigm shift; you should first press in the clutch. So, how do we prepare to shift gears?

First, our entrepreneurship programs should be structured in a way that provides students with strong foundational knowledge in the core areas of business while also integrating skills development in the areas of creative thinking and complex communications (i.e., synthesizing, explaining, and persuading). As Sir Ken Robinson, international creativity expert, maintains, "Creativity is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”

Second, our programs should continue to offer stand-alone courses or learning outcomes embedded in other courses that emphasize transformational leadership styles whereby students develop the ability to relate and personally connect to others. We can be sure that, with the proliferation of on-line social networks, empathic leadership will be in high demand.

In the midst of any storm, the best course of action is to usually "batten down the hatches” and wait for the skies to clear. However, we don’t have that luxury right now. We cannot sit still, and yet we cannot overreact either. Those who will weather the storm will be those who can spot the prevailing winds and set their sails accordingly. For those in entrepreneurship education, that means sticking to the fundamentals while also implementing programs that expand our understanding of entrepreneurship, foster creative thinking, emphasize complex communications skills, and develop empathic leaders.


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