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Firms Spend Billions to Educate Help : Study Says Traditional Schools Not Adequate

January 28, 1985|Associated Press

NEW YORK — Big business spends up to $100 billion a year to teach its workers, partly because traditional schools aren't doing the job adequately, according to a 233-page report, "Corporate Classrooms: The Learning Business," released by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

The report, a two-year study, said a key reason corporations are spending so much to train and educate their workers is that traditional schools, from kindergarten to college, too often produce workers lacking basic communication and problem-solving skills.

Schools run by corporations have been around for decades, with their chief aims to update worker skills, teach company customs and foster better communication. A growing number of firms also believe that continuing education makes for happier, more productive workers.

But "corporate classrooms should not be so busy teaching the three Rs," said the Carnegie report's author, Nell Eurich, a foundation trustee and senior consultant to the Academy for Educational Development in New York.

"The indictment . . . extends beyond secondary schools," she said. "Beyond basics, more and more companies are teaching analytical skills and critical thinking, conceptual bases for transferable knowledge, foreign languages, psychology and sociology, economics, college algebra, physics and other courses in science and technology.

"These studies, clearly the domain of colleges and universities, should not need to be duplicated in corporate classrooms, at least not for college graduates," she said.

College courses, in particular, tend to be theoretical rather than practical and often leave pupils ill-prepared for the result-oriented corporate world, the report said.

On the positive side, the report said community colleges "have the best track record" in developing cooperative education and training programs with business.

The study examined the growth of corporate education, which first came on the scene in the 19th Century Industrial Revolution when, then as now, the workplace required entirely new skills.

The report found that employee training by large corporations now rivals four-year colleges in the number of adults taught and dollars spent. Business now offers courses in everything from basic reading to high school chemistry to good management practices.

The report cited various estimates that corporations are spending at least $40 billion a year--and as much as $100 billion if worker salaries paid during training are counted--teaching nearly 8 million American workers a wide range of courses. By comparison, four-year colleges spent about $60 billion teaching 7.65 million pupils in 1981-82, the latest figures available.

400 Institutions

Some 400 business sites currently have facilities tagged as colleges, universities, institutes or education centers, according to the study.

Some examples: McDonald's Hamburger University in Illinois, Burger King University in suburban Miami, Northrup University in Inglewood, Calif., Sun Institute in Radnor, Pa., and probably the biggest, Xerox's Learning Center in Leesville, Va.

The latest entry in the field is the "National Technological University" in Fort Collins, Colo., which, starting next fall, will use satellite signals to beam to corporations around the country complete curricula in computer engineering and engineering management taught by 15 professors from top universities.

The report generally praised the job that business is doing as teacher to its workers. But it said that corporate education had grown with virtually no public accountability. Under current tax law, business can write off half its worker education expenses. The public foots the other half of the bill, said Eurich, in the price consumers pay for goods and services produced by those corporations.

"Clearly, corporate learning is a vital public policy issue," said Carnegie president Ernest L. Boyer in an introduction to the report.

The report also noted some flaws in corporate education. Corporate classrooms, for example, sometimes "do not take full advantage of newer teaching techniques."

In its only major policy recommendation, the report called for establishment of a "Strategic Council for Educational Development" to help guide the public and private education sectors.

In some ways, corporate schooling resembles traditional schooling. Polaroid, like many other big firms, offers workers classes in reading and high school chemistry and physics, as well as more esoteric offerings like "The Process of Aging: Myths of Productivity."

A few corporations actually grant accredited degrees: the 15-year-old Rand Graduate Institute, the Wang Institute of Graduate Studies Corporation and Arthur D. Little, for example.

The scope of corporate training is generally overlooked by government, by educators, even by industry itself. The report said: "Corporate sector education has been called a 'shadow' system and a 'second' system; such labels are both misleading and questionable. It is not a shadow and it is second to none in the integrity of its programs and purposes.

"The corporate system is educating many millions of adults in this nation. Its classrooms are more than the primary center for improving human resources to enhance productivity; they are a major center for adult education, a leading contributor to America's total learning opportunities."

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