Where are all the smart people?

Certainly, our academic institutions are on top of the list.  But you also have to place industry close to the top. Further, the financial draw of industry is attracting top staff to shift back into the private sector, leaving colleges in a difficult spot.

Intellectual talent is becoming akin to athletics. We have star quarterbacks and wide receivers on the recruitment lists.  But this time, it’s those stars in robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, genomics, and a host of other “big ticket” items that look to redefine our world. A recent article in The Economist provides a great perspective on the battle Silicon Valley rages for talent and how universities fight to hold on to their stars.  

In the past, universities employed the world’s best AI experts. Now tech firms are plundering departments of robotics and machine learning (where computers learn from data themselves) for the highest-flying faculty and students, luring them with big salaries similar to those fetched by professional athletes.

And this got me thinking. If companies are attracting the best thinkers, perhaps that’s where the best students should be too. Are the 4 or more years after high school best spent in college? Certainly, the financial burden is a key concern. College tuition and fees are at the very top of the list of increases in consumer goods since 1997—ever greater than healthcare!

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

And the strife and struggle on campuses also deflect from their core academic intent. It just seems that innovation and learning are shifting to the private sector and driven by economics. 

It might be time to take a new look at education and drag academia out of a system that can be indulgent and complacent. Let’s put these thoughts into the marketplace of ideas and see what kind of grades they might receive.

  • The role of the apprentice and how “on the job” training may become “in the lab” and “in the field” education.
  • Reconsider the “academic” value of work and balance that against the almighty diploma.
  • Establish educational outcomes data to establish the value of a diploma.
  • Reinvent corporations as training centers of excellence that offer non-degree certifications.

Of course, none of this thinking is new or breakthrough. These ideas have been bantered about for many years. As industry becomes some of the new bastions of intellect, it only makes sense that we revisit the process of learning & teaching and see how these fit into a new economy. Uber and Airbnb have disrupted industries. It might be time for some academic disruptions that align with new educational, economic, and social trends that are defining our new world.