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Microsoft Business College

A new way to do business
Because knowledge

In keeping with the education theme from yesterday I want to introduce an idea I've been beating around for about a year or so now.

It's an accepted maxim of the business world that nobody comes out of college knowing how to do the job you plan to hire them for. Businesses and managers approach hiring with the understanding that they are going to have to train whoever they hire. There are a number of reasons for this - including, among other reasons, that graduates lack practical experience, that each business operates differently, and that new technologies frequently change how a business functions.

There are a number of ways to mitigate these barriers for recent college graduates - one of the most effective is an internship. But no business wants to pay an intern and no intern wants to work for free. There are also technical programs and certifications that give students a more focused study, though these still lack a great deal of the practical experience. And really, all these available programs do is throw a band-aid on the problem without doing anything to address the actual disease: higher education fails to prepare graduates for real life.

The obvious solution, of course, is to rethink higher education. My last post focused on research and problem solving. This post is going to focus on business.

Introducing Microsoft Business College

Why Microsoft? Because working at Apple wouldn't give anyone any relevant experience. And I actually planned to pitch this idea to Microsoft once I finished the business plan. (Note: writing business plans is hard.)

Microsoft Business College operates as a business. There are no lectures, no classrooms, just a business that needs to keep running. Employees are interviewed and hired based on their qualifications and the needs of the business. There are quarterly financial objectives to meet and corporate accountability.

Incoming freshman apply like they're applying for a job (because they are). This means they should have some relevant background and a resume. They interview and compete with other applicants like they're applying for a real job (because they are). Once hired, they work full time keeping the business running.

Students take no formal classes. At the beginning of each week they are given a set of "learning objectives", in line with a standard college curriculum coupled with business/job specific tasks. Students have the week to accomplish the objectives as they see fit, utilizing learning materials, online coursework, and knowledge bases made available by the college. With each year, as students progress in their learning objectives they are promoted through the ranks in their chosen field.

So, for example, a high school senior decides he wants to be an IT guy. He builds his resume with computer classes and a part-time job on the Geek Squad. He applies for a position at Microsoft Business College. He interviews and gets hired. He starts out as a help desk tech and balances his days between taking IT calls and studying his learning objectives. As he progresses to a sophomore, he transfers to the desktop support team, then the network team, then the server admin team. And when he graduates, he's not only completed a degree but has four years of real work experience supporting a real IT department and solving real world problems. Students can also test for certifications as part of their coursework.

Of course, there's the money problem. Since this is a university, students pay tuition and apply for financial aid as usual. However, since it's also a business, the company will have revenue which will be used to offset tuition costs. The more successful the business is (at selling whatever product it might be - maybe Xbox games?), the lower tuition costs for the students. I like this because it gives students a direct stake in their education and the quality of their work.

Finally, not every employee of this business can be a student. So a portion of the staff will actually be paid employees - managers and department heads. These will also function as instructors, delivering the learning objectives and reviewing the progress of their team members, both academically and operationally.

The focus here is on the experience. Yes, the learning objectives cover curriculum requirements for accreditation and a degree, but employers care much more about that experience. And while this model would not work for every degree program, it would cover many degrees and especially those related to business.

So if any of you have Satya Nadella's ear - point him my way. I've got something I'd like to talk about ;)

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