Entrepreneurship meets Service meets Academic Engagement…

…and it’s not even that hard.

I’ve said before that one of the fundamental things the university has not come to terms with is that in an environment where failure is inexpensive, undergraduates can be pushed to solve real problems, rather than to practice solving problems they might encounter once they get out of college.

In the world of net-enabled education, this is possibly the most important differentiator. And it will change the face of undergraduate education.

The product that colleges will be giving you in twenty years is not a degree, but a reputation. The number of students that have done something significant and public in undergrad will hit a critical mass, so much so that the reputation of colleges will be largely determined by what they helped their students do while the students were under their mentoring.

Here’s the thing: people in higher education often object — “But our students aren’t that smart! Not everybody can be an entrepreneur!”

Or they say something else with more syllables, but they mean that.

They are wrong.

Case in point — the hottest New Hampshire political blog right now is not Blue Hampshire or GraniteGrok. It’s New Hampshire Presidential Watch, a blog run by a St. Anselm’s undergrad.

What is it that attracts visitors? Incisive political analysis? Horse race statistics? Round the clock reporting?

Nope. What the kid who runs it does is take all the emails and other info he gets from all the Presidential candidates, and does the painful but absolutely essential work of organizing it into a single calendar. And because he’s become the destination site to find out who’s in the state, candidates now send him the updates. And because he now has an audience, he *can* do political reporting, and be read by thousands.

No algorithms. No advanced marketing plan. Just someone saying to a kid, you know, I wish I didn’t have to go to 16 different sites to figure out who was in town, and the kid thinking: I can solve that.

The talent is not in the compilation of these materials. It’s in that impulse: I can solve that. And because this impulse is what fuels the new economy, this kid will never want for a job. He will graduate Saint A’s, and the degree will be a footnote to what he already accomplished.

He’ll graduate with a reputation.

You can call it service, or entrepreneurship, or academic engagement; in truth, it’s all three.

What you can’t call it is idealistic. It’s here and now. It’s happening. And there’s absolutely no reason not to embrace it.

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