Why should business invest in education? Should investment be driven by enlightenment, self-interest or both?
If universities are run like businesses and businesses are running their own universities then what is the difference between them?

On a practical level, why should business invest in education?

In order to obtain greater resource investments in education one might look to educators, businesses and/or politicians. Of these three choices I think that businesses should be first and foremost. Many educators believe in education for its own sake, a means without an identifiable end. Frequent elections mean that politicians are in constant campaign mode, necessitating a focus on the short run, on tactics instead of strategy. Failure to engage in strategic planning could ultimately send America off course since if you don't know where you are going any road will get you there. As compared to educators and politicians, businesses stand to lose the most if the necessary investments are not made in education. If the America of 2010 does not have an educated workforce the politicians of today could still be living happily in the private sector, the educators of today could still be fighting for more funding and blaming the politicians but the businesses of today will be in dire straits indeed. Individual businesses must always pursue their bottom line, they must focus on short-term profits in order to survive. Fortunately, groups such as state and national chambers of commerce exist and can provide leadership to the business community in terms of strategic planning. Businesses are the ultimate producers of wealth, politicians and educators merely acquire and spend the revenues generated by businesses, whether through direct business taxes or indirect personal taxes of business employees. I don't mean to suggest that one shouldn't try to work with educators and politicians but I am saying that the fate of the American business community is ultimately in its own hands.

On a conceptual level, why should business invest in education?

The dominant creator of value in 21st century business will increasingly be intellectual capital as opposed to physical or financial capital. Although business support for education has existed for some time there are too many "just because" arguments in favor of education, support education because it is the moral and ethical thing to do, because it helps our children, etc. These arguments are valid and useful, particularly where politicians and educators are concerned, but I think that businesses are more likely to be swayed by supply-chain arguments. Numerous studies have shown a link between education and economic health since our Information Economy must have access to a continuing supply of IC. Whereas during the 20th century economy the means of production were machines and laborers, in the 21st century economy the means of production are to be found between the ears of employees. To ensure a steady stream of the new means of production businesses need leadership from chambers of commerce and other associations so that investments of IC are made early and often. It's finance dogma that investing early leads to much greater compounded returns and as it is with financial capital so it goes with intellectual capital.

If universities are run like businesses and businesses are running their own universities then what is the difference between them? There is debate and controversy within academe over the fact that many politicians think universities should be run more like businesses, that government in general should be run more like a business. Some argue that business is inherently more efficient than government and so universities would do well to adopt business practices, thereby being able to better serve ever-increasing numbers of students. Some argue that universities exist to better mankind, possessing of higher purposes far beyond merely being an assemblyline for productive citizens. Each side is passionate, each side is correct, each becomes entrenched in its assumptions and truths but there is a problem: this debate misses the point.

The point is that universities and businesses are one and the same since they are both capitalist systems. The difference between them is in the balance of the types of capital produced. That is, both universities and businesses create financial capital as well as intellectual capital albeit in different amounts. It is easy, even traditional to assume that universities exist to generate intellectual capital, businesses exist to generate financial capital and that this is the dividing line between them. While it is certainly true that universities do generate IC via research and businesses do generate profits via sales the two are not mutually exclusive. Universities generate profits via sales, more and more schools are creating the infrastructure necessary for researchers to develop and sell their products and services. Many universities have realized that they need to stop value flowing away, profiting from the IC they generate by moving beyond research and including commerce. Moreover, businesses generate large quantities of IC. Businesses are constantly conducting research and some of the larger firms even have their own corporate universities. The conceptual difference between a university business class and a corporate university class is exactly nothing, both deal with the distribution of intellectual capital.

Given that universities and businesses both create capital, it is fair to ask if all education is equal. Since quality of life programs such as the arts require net investments of financial capital, funding for them tends to increase during prosperous economic times. I therefore suggest that society should first fund the financially productive areas such as math, science and business so that down the road we can guarantee the continued ability to fund other areas. Those who believe in education as an end unto itself should bear in mind the benefits of economic prosperity and attendant rises in both public and private funding, as the greater the amount of financial capital flowing through an economy the more finely it can be partitioned. If we as a society first fund the things necessary to sustain life we can then afford the things that make life worth living.