The ivory tower is lowering the drawbridge as Orange County’s college campuses more directly connect their research and education efforts with business concerns.
The cooperation is intended to produce more useful data and graduates better prepared to move into professional positions, and in some cases the schools have started to work with students before they enter college.
“Education should be very much founded in the real business and economic problems out there,” said Vernon Smith, a Nobel laureate and professor of economics at Chapman University.
Smith said the “laboratory” model of a more insular and internal university is still viable and necessary but that “field experiments”—working on actual economic issues beyond the college campus—are more crucial than ever.
Smith’s own research in areas such as energy and housing connects to real business concerns in that way, with studies on how to create marketplaces in electric power and, more recently, examining the housing bubble that contributed to the start of the economic recession in 2008.
He received the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2002 for work in experimental economics that connects often abstract mathematical models with real-world market behavior, and his studies on the housing bubble produced a book this year co-authored with Chapman presidential fellow Steven Gjerstad, “Rethinking Housing Bubbles.”
Then in September, Chapman’s Economic Science Institute hosted a Directors Roundtable meeting where Smith and Gjerstad spoke. Directors Roundtable is a civic group that organizes programs for companies’ corporate directors and the directors’ advisers.
“You’re involved in experiments, and it comes right into the classroom and then back out into the real problems of the economy,” Smith said.
Money for Something
The connection between research and business problems is also part of the work of another new Chapman effort.
Professor Fadel Lawandy directs the Hoag Center for Real Estate and Finance and the Janes Financial Center, which this past academic year launched a residency program for seven Chapman finance students.
Students apply for the program—which offers neither pay nor academic credit—for an average of 10 hours a week of real-world work.
“When I was in the financial industry, graduates understood academics but not practical everyday business,” Lawandy said. “These students work.”
Residents—think medical school but with sport coats instead of lab coats—develop financial products as for clients, and investment strategies for a Chartered Financial Analysts Society of Orange County competition. The top three schools in the event then help manage funds—real money—for the society’s foundation.
“You suggest a portfolio, present it and get scored,” he said. “They gave quarterly reports just as you would for clients in business.”
The team placed third in its first attempt, and as of June 30, its portfolio had returned 14.4%—double the S&P 500 benchmark of 7.14%, he said.
The program grew to 10 students this academic year, and 10 others were turned away.
Brandman University in Irvine—part of the Chapman System—has also upped its business-oriented efforts.
The nonprofit school with about two dozen campuses in California and Washington for working professionals recently launched what it calls a “competency-based” bachelor’s degree in business administration.
“Innovation means doing something new, or doing something old in a new way,” said Helen Eckmann, a professor in the School of Business and Professional Studies. “It’s a new approach to learning.”
She said the idea is to test students on what they know from their professions, apply credit for that work, then design the rest of the program around the remaining academic need.
Brandman built the program in-house with its School of Arts and Sciences and earned accreditation for it.
“It’s turning the bachelor’s degree upside down,” Eckmann said.
Other schools are also connecting the work of a university to the practical concerns of business.
And they’re starting younger these days, using the power of the university to prepare teens and preteens to do the work of business.
California State University-Fullerton’s Center for Economic Education administers a program with U.S. Bank—whose president and chief executive, Richard K. Davis, is a Cal State Fullerton grad—to teach teens from low-income areas about personal finance.
In 2011, 80 eighth-graders began saving $10 a month through the Youth Economic Empowerment Program.
Through June 2016, when the kids graduate from high school, they’ll continue to save, plus attend four-day summer sessions in economics and financial literacy instruction.
At the end of the period, the bank will match the money saved over the 60 months two-for-one for a total of $1,800 for college tuition.
The program is funded by $500,000 from the bank and $150,000 from Assets for Independence, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Fullerton professor of economics and center Director Radha Bhattacharya said real-world work starts with the university. The center administers the funds, trains its graduate students to teach the teens during the summer classes—opportunity costs, making choices, credit, compound interest and the stock market—and measures which of the program’s teaching methods produce the best information retention—online versus hands-on instruction, for example.
CSUF will assess the program’s effects at the end of the five years.
“Ultimately, we want to see in a longitudinal study if this program will help the low-income community enjoy higher rates of college enrollment and upward economic mobility,” Bhattacharya said.
On the other side of the county, Concordia University in Irvine is targeting similar age groups with a business-focused effort.
The school’s weeklong Teen Entrepreneur Academy, held three summers running, has student teams compete to write business plans, with OC businesspeople as speakers, coaches, and judges of the final products.
More than 75 students from six states and three countries attended it in July.
Business school Dean Stephen Christensen plans to expand the academy next year with a weeklong “KidPreneur” version for students ages 9 to 12.
He said that each summer parents had asked about a program for younger kids.
“So as an entrepreneur, I’m responding to
the marketplace demands,” he said. “Parents want the program, and we have the curriculum and passion to prepare future business leaders.”