College and Business Will Never Be the Same: Philadelphia University Integrates Design, Engineering and Commerce

2/15/11Follow @sgblank

Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.
—Attributed to Albert Einstein, Mark Twain and B.F. Skinner

There are 4633 accredited, degree-granting colleges and universities in the United States. This weekend I had dinner with one of them—a friend who’s now the president of Philadelphia University. He’s working hard to reinvent the school into a model for 21st century professional education.

The Silo Career Track

One of the problems in business today is that college graduates trained in a single professional discipline (i.e. design, engineering or business) end up graduating as domain experts but with little experience working across multiple disciplines.

In the business world of the of the 20th century it was assumed that upon graduation students would get jobs and focus the first years of their professional careers working on specific tasks related to their college degree specialty. It wasn’t until the middle of their careers that they find themselves having to work across disciplines (engineers, working with designers and product managers and vice versa) to collaborate and manage multiple groups outside their trained expertise.

This type of education made sense in design, engineering and business professions when graduates could be assured that the businesses they were joining offered stable careers that gave them a decade to get cross discipline expertise.

20th Century Professional Education

Today, college graduates with a traditional 20th century College and University curriculum start with a broad foundation but very quickly narrow into a set of specific electives focused on a narrow domain expertise.

Interdisciplinary and collaborative courses are offered as electives but don’t really close the gaps between design, engineering and business.

Interdisciplinary Education in a Volatile, Complex, and Ambiguous World

The business world is now a different place. Graduating students today are entering a world with little certainty or security. Many will get jobs that did not exist when they started college. Many more will find their jobs obsolete or shipped overseas by the middle of their career.

This means that students need skills that allow them to be agile, resilient, and cross functional. They need to view their careers knowing that new fields may emerge and others might disappear. Today most college curriculum are simply unaligned with modern business needs.

Over a decade ago many research universities and colleges recognized this problem and embarked on interdisciplinary education to break down the traditional barriers between … Next Page »

Steve Blank is the co-author of The Startup Owner's Manual and author of the Four Steps to the Epiphany, which details his Customer Development process for minimizing risk and optimizing chances for startup success. A retired serial entrepreneur, Steve teaches at Stanford University Engineering School and at U.C. Berkeley's Haas Business School. He blogs at www.steveblank.com. Follow @sgblank

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  • Dr. JimHoyt

    I have an undergraduate degree in Physics and was an engineer (Mech, Nuclear and Electronic)for 15 years. I then earned my MBA and then my doctorate in business admin Univ Texas 1996). I teach at Troy Univ. and I agree with you whole heartedly. Business students have no engineering savvy and engineers have minimal business knowledge. (Nor do they care to have any.) This is due primarily to basic differences in personality and their intrinsic “needs”. Anything you can do in this area would be wonderful and I’d like help in any way I can.

    Dr. Jim Hoyt, Assoc Prof of Management