PORTLAND, ORE. — Diploma time is just around the corner for college students, and many are probably wondering where their career paths may lead. Offshoring - outsourcing jobs to other countries - is a hot-button issue, although some analysts say the trend is being exaggerated.
David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor's, recently commented: "There is no difference from an economic standpoint from outsourcing manufacturing jobs, which we have been doing for 20 years, and outsourcing white-collar service jobs, except college-educated white-collar workers whine louder when they lose their jobs." (Note to Mr. Wyss: Avoid that line if you're asked to speak at any coming commencements.)
As the latest crop of graduates prepares to join the scramble for employment, I think the time has come to seriously consider overhauling the entire relationship between commerce and higher education. Perhaps the best way to meet the economic challenges of the new millennium is a cultural reconfiguration that maximizes our educational infrastructure. I'm talking about transforming the US into a college-based economy. Instead of preparing kids for life in the real world, universities would become the real world.
Opportunities for creating profitable commercial enterprises exist on almost every campus, ranging from computer science to agriculture. One tasty example in my region is a cheese called Cougar Gold, a product of the creamery at Washington State University. With expanded production and a clever advertising campaign, it could become a dairy-case dynasty.
How about upsizing the UCLA film school into a full-fledged movie studio? I've got to believe they could turn out better material than "The Big Bounce" or "Welcome to Mooseport." Philadelphia University could trademark its former name, Philadelphia Textile, and slap it on a line of hip youth apparel.
And then, of course, there are athletics. Here are some new rules: Pay the participants, give them seven or eight years of eligibility, institute a playoff system for Division I football, and let the NCAA morph into a sports-marketing enterprise. The NFL and NBA will howl, but they're already in decline. Fans have more fun and stronger emotional attachments to school teams.
Do I have a hidden agenda here? Yes, and it's media related. I'm a veteran of college radio. Nothing would make me happier than to have the Federal Communications Commission grant huge power increases to every campus station, providing listeners with a wider range of local options on the broadcast spectrum.
I admit that making universities the center of culture and economic activity will require some tweaking. My wife thinks we should invert the current system so teenagers start working right out of high school and head for college around age 50, to stay there permanently. That way, dormitories would also serve as retirement communities. It could work.
However the details shake out, the bottom line is this: Brain power is our greatest national resource. Universities are here to stay. Entities such as the University of Southern California, Duke, and Texas A&M will never relocate to China.
Could a college-based economy really work? I just suggested the outline. Now we need someone to draw up a lesson plan.