Collegiate CSR: The Economy Needs Grads, the Private Sector Must Help

v032211dl-0119editMoving the bar from just enrolling in college to actually graduating from college, Vice President Joe Biden called on the nation's state governors to help more students complete their college education. But the government cannot do it alone -- the private sector also has a vital role to play. And it is in its best interest to do so.

AMERICAN EDUCATION: TURNING A FUNNEL INTO A PIPELINE

Speaking at the Grad Nation Conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Vice President Biden announced the release of the administration's new College Completion Tool Kit, produced by the Department of Education and meant to assist states in building a plan to improve college completion.

"We have to make the same commitment to getting folks across the graduation stage that we did to getting them into the registrar’s office," the Vice President said.

"The President has set a clear goal: By 2020, America will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world," according to the Vice President’s Middle Class Task Force blog, which noted the administration’s "commitment to expanding student aid through Pell Grants and the American Opportunity Tax Credit."

COLLEGE-THINKING CSR: WHAT SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE COMPANIES CAN DO

"Right now we’ve got an education system that works like a funnel when we need it to work like a pipeline," Biden said. And if there's any part of society that understands how to build a pipeline, it's the private sector.

The 2010 report "Can I Get a Little Advice Here?" published by the non-partisan, non-profit Public Agenda identified the need for "innovative thinking about ways other institutions and other entities could lend a hand."

The report has the imprimatur of the $35.5 billion-endowed Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Forward-thinking business leaders and corporate social responsibility managers looking to implement CSR policies in the field of education should read it. After all, Mr. Gates knows a thing or two about innovation in the private sector.

But that innovation is just part of an overall need for more corporate social responsibility in the area of higher education. And sometimes the best ideas are the most obvious -- and require the least amount of money. Public Agenda said that the private sector, for example, "could provide trained volunteers who could help high school graduates better understand the higher education choices open to them."

These young people simply need some time and much-needed guidance from a business professional, something that the non-profit group Big Brother Big Sister has been working on since 1904. According to their website, "67% of former Littles surveyed agree that their Big played a role in their decision to attend college."

Obama’s Tool Kit calls on "business leaders to develop state completion goals and associated state action plans,” noting that while some strategies "do not require large financial investments, they do require new ways of doing business and leadership that inspires new levels of collaboration among various stakeholders."

INNOVATIVE GUIDANCE: FROM HANDS-ON LEARNING TO AN EDUCATIONAL E-HARMONY.COM

The general feeling that high school students seem to get little actual guidance about college is bolstered by the fact that, as the Public Agenda report notes, "most states and districts do not require professional development for guidance counselor."

The report also suggested that "maybe it’s time for a higher education 'eHarmony.com' -- some type of online resource that introduces students to the best potential college matches for them, given their distinct skills and aspirations. Maybe social networking that brings aspiring high school students together with students and professors could play a useful role."

In a separate 2009 report, "With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them," Public Agenda found that 73 percent of 22-30-year-olds who graduated college -- and 69% of those who didn’t graduate -- said they wanted programs "for students who are interested in hands-on learning, apprenticeships and non-classroom work." These are important strategies that companies can incorporate relatively easily into their corporate social responsibility policies, strategies that will also help cultivate possible future talent.

The report also asks, "Are there ways that businesses can help part-time workers to pursue higher education, perhaps by providing access to health benefits or by offering more predictable working hours so that would-be students can more easily schedule their classes? Part-time work is often seasonal or otherwise vulnerable to the business cycle and other economic ups and downs. Would more secure part-time employment options be a game changer for some students?"

CALLING THE PRIVATE SECTOR: STUDENTS NEED YOUR HELP

"America has fallen to 9th in the proportion of young people with a college degree," said President Obama in his speech on education on March 14 at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Virginia. "Understand, we used to be first, and we now rank 9th. That’s not acceptable."

"And turning these statistics around isn’t just the right thing to do for our kids -- it’s the right thing to do for our economy, because the best jobs program out there is a good education," Obama said.

"The best economic policy is one that produces more college graduates. And that’s why, for the sake of our children and our economy and America’s future, we’re going to have to do a better job educating every single one of our sons and daughters."

Business leaders -- there’s your call to action. The nation’s students need your help. Never forget that they represent the future of the American economy -- and your business.

image: Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Grad Nation Conference at the Marriott Wardman Park, in Washington, DC, March 22, 2011. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann).

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