Ed Schrader at Get Real
Brenau University President Ed Schrader speaks during a panel discussion, "A Subscription for Entrepreneurial Education,"at The Times Center Friday, September 26, 2014 during the "Let's Get Real" Conference in New York City. (Photo by Barry Williams Photography)

Entrepreneurs Like Tech Wizard David Karp Would Benefit from Academic ‘Shake Up,’ Brenau President Ed Schrader Asserts

Sep 26, 2014
Brenau Staff

Brenau University President Ed Schrader called on U.S. higher education’s academic and administrative leaders to explore development of individually customized programs tailored to specific needs of undergraduate and graduate students as a supplement to traditional college and university degree tracks.

“I do not believe that the traditional M.B.A. degree will be dead in 10 years,” Schrader said, “but I do believe that it will be dramatically different in 10 years.”

Schrader made his remarks here Friday during a day-long symposium for entrepreneurial corporate and institutional chief executives sponsored jointly by Gainesville, Georgia-based Brenau University and the Atlanta-based Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. The two also sponsor an enhanced Master of Business Administration program for entrepreneurs.

David Karp, Founder and CEO Tumblr, answers a question during the GET REAL Conference at The Times Center in Manhattan, New York, Friday, September 26, 2014. (Photo by Barry Williams)
David Karp, Founder and CEO Tumblr, answers a question during the Get Real Conference at The TimesCenter in Manhattan, New York, Friday, September 26, 2014. (Photo by Barry Williams)

Headliner for the conference was Tumblr founder and CEO David Karp, the 28-year-old technology entrepreneur who in 2013, without benefit of a college degree, sold the company he started building when he was 15 years old to Yahoo! for $1.1 billion. He had learned basic web page-building languages by the time he was 12 and more sophisticated programming languages by the time he was 14. When he was 18, he was working as a technology engineer for a U.S. company in Tokyo.

“It is not that I was bored with school,” said Karp. “It is just that I was very busy outside school.”

One of the questions posed to all of the speakers at the conference was whether Karp would have been helped or hindered by having taken time to go through college and get a Master of Business Administration degree.

For entrepreneurs like Karp, “getting the degree is not the point,” said Schrader. “Getting the information they need to know how to do what they have to do is the point.”

Karp may not have needed to learn everything offered in a traditional M.B.A. As he was growing his company, “he certainly could have benefitted from learning how to address his market,” which is a component of a business degree.

“A CEO of a multimillion-dollar enterprise who does not have time for or the need for a full M.B.A. program but would benefit greatly from being able to carve out the financial portion of that,” said Schrader. “With unbundling the student can develop portions of programs that are relative to their needs and desires.”

Although he conceded this idea of “bundling” and “unbundling” portions of traditional degree-track programs is not a new concept, Schrader said, “It could be a radical one if it shakes up the way colleges and universities structure their relationships with individual students.”

Many higher education “consumers” today, particularly the nontraditional adult learners seeking to bolster business credentials or enhance life skills to change or advance in careers, are not willing to invest the time or money it takes to get traditional degrees.

Schrader is a member of a blue-ribbon panel of 22 private institution presidents commissioned by the Washington-based Council of Independent Colleges to provide recommendations for its member institutions to revitalize their missions and business models to be more responsive to needs of future students. The group met for the first time last week to set its agenda for addressing 21st century issues.

James D. Collins, a medical technology entrepreneur from Orlando, Florida, who attended the New York conference, said that he sees validity in the “learn by experience” model embraced by many entrepreneurs, be he decided to enroll in the M.B.A. program at Brenau because “sometimes you are just not aware what experience you should be learning from.”

“I don’t want to have to learn everything the hard way,” he said. “I don’t want to have a whole lot of scars.”

Schrader said that several members of the president’s group from CIC, including Brenau, have successfully implemented experimental bundling or unbundling programs at their institutions, Schrader said that many members of the group expressed belief that exploration of broader applications of the concept as something that could benefit both students and institutions is a good starting point.

“Earlier models of the unbundling and re-bundling concept primarily addressed the problem of helping colleges and universities reduce costs,” he said. “What we envision, however, is development of a new model in which colleges and universities add greater value to what they offer students by finding ways to forge learning relationships with individuals.”

The same concept, he added, could be applied to students’ combining different aspects of multiple programs to give them the kind of degree they need.

“All the research we see from prospective employers about what they want from our graduates is both technical skills – the very focused learning associated with many master’s and doctoral programs – as well as the so-called ‘soft skills’ that often are honed in undergraduate liberal arts programs,” he said. “We’re already adding specialty certification offerings in project management, health care administration and entrepreneurship to the M.B.A. Why shouldn’t we add in additional programs to help them develop interpersonal skills or broaden their world views?”

Such innovation, however, would require a change in attitudes – in and out of academia and among students as well as academicians – about myriad aspects of higher education. Implementation, for example, would require examination of issues including competency-based learning (in which students earn credit for knowledge and experience to supplement academic credits), expanding modes for delivering higher education beyond the traditional classroom, partnerships with non-academic content providers and broadening definitions for degrees and certification to recognize these customized “packets” as valid higher education credentials.

The CIC project, entitled The Future of Independent Liberal Arts Colleges, is funded by the Lumina Foundation, the independent Indianapolis-based organization dedicated to expanding educational opportunities beyond high school. The group’s charter is to explore new approaches to higher education, alternative college business models and potentially disruptive trends in American society and education along with the traditional characteristics and missions of independent liberal arts colleges that are regarded as essential to their success.

“We have the best higher education system in the world,” Schrader said, “but when you have institutions that still are tied to models that date back to before our country was founded, you need to take a hard look at what you need to be doing for the rest of the 21st century to maintain that leadership.”