Real World 101:College President Makes Business and Life Skills a Top Priority

The president of High Point University makes “Life Skills” mandatory for future grads.

His goal? To bridge the gap between “college” and “Corporate America” and set the stage for a new paradigm in Higher Education.

High Point, NC – There’s the Ivory Tower, there’s the Real World, and when you cross over from one to the other, the culture shock is profound. At least, that’s the prevailing attitude among many college graduates and the companies that hire them. Like most generalizations, it doubtless contains a grain of truth. And in an age where jobs are scarce and time is tight, students and professionals alike want to bridge the divide between the hallowed halls of academia and the no-nonsense corridors of Corporate America.

Enter Nido Qubein, the newly-appointed president of High Point University. The well-known businessman, consultant, speaker, and philanthropist is committed to bringing a good dose of Real World pragmatism into the life of every student in his charge – and he hopes the trend he’s starting will spread to campuses across America.

“Most colleges already do an admirable job of teaching young people how to think critically,” says Qubein. “That is the purpose of higher education. The thought process has traditionally been: ‘Immerse them in theories and ideas and when they get that first job they’ll learn practical applications.’ But the pace of business has increased exponentially and few companies have time to nurture fledgling employees. They want graduates to come in knowing how the business world works – and that’s the need we’re trying to fill at HPU.”

Before graduating from High Point University – a private liberal arts college located in North Carolina’s Piedmont Triad – every student is required to take Qubein’s own “Life Skills” course. (Yes, he is the instructor.) The intensive course, which will begin in January of 2006, covers such topics as leadership fundamentals, fiscal literacy and stewardship, communication skills, time management, and the rules of business etiquette.

Since the school started spreading the Real World gospel, it has experienced a conflagration of interest from potential students. Qubein reports that applications for the 2006 freshman class are double what they were just last year. Open House attendance is up 300 percent, and retention is up 11 percent – a trend he calls “phenomenal.”

“The content of this course might seem like common sense to anyone who has worked in a professional setting,” he adds. “But to most students, it’s uncharted territory. Sending a young person with no life skills training into the workplace is a little like air dropping someone who speaks only English into, say, Russia. I want to familiarize them with the language and the culture before they strap on the parachute and jump out of the plane.”

Qubein hopes other universities will follow his lead. Why? Because the brave new world that is the 21st century demands it. He believes the work he’s doing at High Point University will benefit everyone involved:

  • Students. “College students who can demonstrate a grasp of practical life skills will have a definite edge in the marketplace,” says Qubein. “I mean, we’re in the middle of an uncertain economy. And many jobs that were once havens for recent graduates – customer service call center work, for instance – have moved overseas. The competition for the remaining jobs is fierce, and employers often view new college grads as a hiring risk. At High Point we’re saying, ‘We’re going to teach you the skills that really matter so you’ll be an asset, not a liability.’ That is a huge benefit to students.”
  • Employers. “Most employers see hiring people straight out of college as a double-edged sword,” says Qubein. “On one hand, these young people are bright, energetic, and creative. On the other, they usually don’t understand what makes Corporate America tick. They may not grasp how their time translates into profits, for example, or they may not understand business protocol. They need to learn these concepts before they can start earning their keep, and companies don’t always have the time, the money, or the wherewithal to teach them. By helping companies reduce that learning curve, we make recent grads more desirable employees.”
  • The larger college community. “Higher education is facing an unprecedented push to evolve,” Qubein asserts. “As the economy shifts and as businesses become leaner and meaner, people are beginning to question the nature of traditional education. Is the college experience what it should be? Are students really getting a good ROI? Why am I spending a fortune to send my children to school if they come out unprepared for an entry-level job? The fact is, universities are going to have to change the way they think about their own product. The ones that meet changing consumer demands will succeed. The ones that don’t will find themselves starved of tuition dollars and will founder.”
  • For High Point University students, of course, the chance to learn firsthand from a highly successful business veteran is an honor. (And it doesn’t hurt that he holds the highest designation bestowed by the National Speakers Association and has won numerous awards for his eloquence.) But Qubein insists that he will gain just as much from the experience.

    “I am truly looking forward to standing in front of these young people and teaching them about the business world,” he says. “I’ve read books and I’ve written books. I love books. But there are things you learn by reading and there are things you learn by doing. I love that I can share what I’ve done out there in the trenches. I love that I’m helping them prepare for their futures, that I’m helping provide businesses with good employees, that I’m helping build a model other schools can follow. It’s a win-win-win, and I’m grateful to be a part of it all.”

    High Point University President Nido Qubein came to the United States as a teenager with little knowledge of English, no contacts, and only $50 in his pocket, yet ended up a mega success story.

    He is chairman of an international consulting firm and recipient of the highest awards given for professional speakers including the Cavett (known as the Oscar of professional speaking), the Speakers Hall of Fame, and Sales and Marketing International’s Ambassador of Free Enterprise. Toastmasters International named him the Top Business and Commerce Speaker and awarded him the Golden Gavel Medal. He served as president of the National Speakers Association, which has a membership of 4,000 professionals, and is the founder of the National Speakers Association Foundation where the highest award for philanthropy is named for him. Qubein has been the recipient of many honors including the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, a Doctorate of Laws degree, and induction into Beta Gamma Sigma, the honor society for business leadership.

    His business savvy led him to help start a bank in 1986 and today he serves on the board and executive committee of a Fortune 500 financial corporation with 100 billion dollars in assets and 25,000 employees. He is also chairman of a national public relations company, chairman of Great Harvest Bread Company with 210 stores in 40 states, chairman of Business Life, Inc., and chairman of the Miss North Carolina USA program. He serves on the boards of several national organizations including the YMCA of the USA, which oversees 2,600 YMCAs across the country.

    Qubein has written numerous books and recorded scores of audio and video learning programs including a bestseller on effective communication published by Nightingale-Conant and Berkley. He is an active speaker and consultant addressing more than 100 business and professional groups around the world each year. He doesn’t just talk business; he lives it. He is an entrepreneur with active interests in real estate, advertising, and banking.

    His foundation provides scholarships to 48 deserving young people each year. To-date the Qubein Foundation has granted more than 600 scholarships, worth over three million dollars.

    High Point University is a private, liberal arts university affiliated with The United Methodist Church and dedicated to the Judeo-Christian principles of inclusiveness and diversity. An accredited undergraduate and graduate institution, it has 3,000 students from 50 countries and 36 states.

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