Entrepreneurial Community Colleges Are Better at Adapting
When you ask people what they think of when they hear the word “entrepreneur,” you’ll typically hear responses like “small business person,” “self-employed,” or “profit-seeker.” However, the perception of entrepreneurs as primarily people going into business for themselves and are thus businesspersons, has been detrimental to entrepreneurship education. I would argue that it has also been detrimental to entrepreneurs themselves.
Likewise, colleges have failed to settle on what it means to be an entrepreneur. In preparing this article, I consulted the websites of colleges that brand themselves as “entrepreneurial.” The description of this branding ranges from producing graduates who understand how to market what they are producing (for example, in the case of an art student who might want to effectively sell the art they produce), to those who understand the finances of their chosen field, and to those who seek environmental sustainability in their chosen field.
These definitions significantly limit those who see themselves as entrepreneurs or as being entrepreneurial. A community college that excepts narrow definitions of entrepreneurship is going to run into familiar trouble: it’s going to significantly limit the number and types of students for whom entrepreneurship curriculum would be attractive, and more importantly, it’s going to produce graduates who are, on the whole, not very entrepreneurial.
Broader Understanding of Entrepreneurship
At Independence Community College, we have adopted and applied the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program, created by the Entrepreneurial learning Initiative (ELI). Although this program has many elements, I find its characterization of entrepreneurship to be the most helpful as depicted in this video:
Embracing this broader understanding of an entrepreneur - one who solves the problems of others - has a number of advantages for community colleges:
- It doesn’t confine entrepreneurship to the business department or related curricular.
- It doesn’t rule out students who don’t see themselves as a business majors.
- Most importantly, it allows the community college to better serve the local community.
This last point is crucial. If the community college views itself as entrepreneurial and able to solve the problems of its constituents, it will naturally be far more responsive to the community it serves. As community colleges know, (and their name implies), they have a special obligation to meet the needs of our communities. An entrepreneurial mindset, embraced throughout the institution, provides the ability to solve the problems of others, and is one of the most effective ways for creating strong bonds with the community.
I’ll give a pretty clear example of this: When Independence Community College did an environmental scan for our strategic planning at the college, we interviewed 64 community members taken from a broad variety of demographics – businesspeople, homemakers, students, retirees, etc. One hundred percent of the people we interviewed favorably referenced the entrepreneurship program at ICC and its physical home, the ICC Fab Lab - and they did this unprompted. I challenge you to think of something at your own school that 100% of randomly selected survey respondents would spontaneously identify as something they value and appreciate.
If you would like to see results like these, consider the following:
- Structure your entrepreneurship program in such a way that any major can earn an entrepreneurial credential as part of their degree.
- Encourage the entrepreneurship program to be structurally separate from the business program or business school.
- Adopt a specific definition of entrepreneurship that if sufficiently broad to allow anyone to see themselves as an entrepreneur.
- In recognition that your definition is broad and thus is at odds with our cultural assumptions about entrepreneurs, conduct specific outreach to student groups that don’t fit the previous cultural model.
The result will be entrepreneurial graduates who apply their talents to a wide variety of fields, and a community college that is better positioned to serve the community. Another added benefit: as the needs of the community change, the entrepreneurial college will be better equipped to meet those needs or solve problems. A college that has a culture of not just solving problems, but also seeking problems to solve, will be in the best position to recognize and address future changes and challenges.
Dr. Daniel Barwick
Independence Community College