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The Journal of Higher Education 73.4 (2002) 550-551

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Book Review

What Business Wants from Higher Education

What Business Wants from Higher Education, by Dianne C. Oblinger and Anne-Lee Verville. Phoenix: ACE/ORYX, 1998. 187 pp. $29.95

Are American colleges and universities really preparing their students to meet the urgent and ever changing needs of American business and industry? Corporate and education leaders Oblinger and Verville address this question by describing in great detail the requirements of the private sector and the need for better prepared students in their book, What Business Wants from Higher Education. The authors present the pressing need for leaders in higher education to recognize and understand its role in meeting the demands of a global and competitive economy. By doing so, the authors convincingly argue, college graduates will be better prepared for life and the world of work.

Oblinger and Verville describe the new global marketplace in the context of an individual's ability to adapt to its changing demands and the job market. Unlike other books on this subject, What Business Wants from Higher Education does not render a self-righteous critique of the academy or corporate organizations. Instead, its readers are left with an understanding of how global competitiveness has transformed American businesses and has impacted powerfully our nation's colleges and universities. [End Page 550]

The first and second sections of the book focus on the changing environment. Oblinger and Verville describe the transformation of business into less rigid and more flexible organizations, resulting in their ability to adapt more quickly to the changing environment. Using empirical data, the authors also provide the reader with insight into how changing demographics, technology and globalization impact the world of business and the academy. Although much of what Oblinger and Verville describe is not new news, what is refreshing about their discussion is the provision of a broader context in which to address the need for business and higher education to prepare students for the knowledge-based and digital economy.

The third section of the book identifies specifically what business wants from college graduates and postsecondary institutions. It is in this section that the authors breathe new life into the commonly noted attributes of successful and attractive job candidates—proficiency in written communication, ability to work collaboratively and negotiate, and interpersonal and problem-solving skills.

Establishing a framework for discussion, the authors emphasize the need for employees to be adaptive to an organization. Moreover, Oblinger and Verville creatively present detailed characteristics of the New World of work by delineating and defining in specific terms the job skills required for today's flexible and interactive organizations.

The final section of the book is philosophical in tone and rests on ideological arguments purposed to inform and guide higher education institutions as they strive to improve and create new learning environments in the midst of change and uncertainty. As suggested throughout the organization literature, Oblinger and Verville contend that "the key to creating and sustaining the kind of changes business and higher education need in the twenty-first century is leadership—not only at the top but throughout the organization" (p. 162; italics mine). In the book's concluding section, the authors posit that there is no real "blue print" to guide higher education institutions in their preparation of students for society and business. However, perhaps the most significant contribution of the authors work is the sense of clarity about the impact of change on business and the academy.

What Business Wants from Higher Education should be attractive to a wide audience. College and university professors and administrators might find Oblinger and Verville's work to be a soft jab at the academy. College students should find the book to be not only a credible guide to successful employment in the private sector but also a reasonable critique of the "traditional" vision and mission of many colleges and universities. Organization and education scholars should gain a better understanding of the needs of business and the importance of linkages between the private and public sectors...


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