APU Careers & Learning Online Learning Original

What Is the Purpose of Hospitality Education? (Part IV)

By Dr. Gary L. Deel, Ph.D., J.D.
Faculty Director, School of Business

This is the fourth article in a 12-part series, adapted from my dissertation work at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, on the discord between academe and industry over the role of hospitality education and the purpose it serves in career development for hospitality professionals.

Previously, we discussed the criticism of higher education hospitality management programs that their teachings are outdated to the point of obsolescence. In this part, we’ll examine the argument that the teachings of such programs are too abstruse and esoteric to be relevant or useful to hospitality industry professionals.

Industry Professionals Argue that Hospitality Education Programs Lack Real-World Relevance

Some industry professionals argue that hospitality education programs lack relevance, not due to obsolescence of content, but rather because the traditional classroom learning environment is simply too far removed from the real business world to be of any practical benefit. Frequent criticisms include too much focus on quantitative analysis and insufficient attention to communication skills, management skills, ethics, entrepreneurialism, and other areas.

Other industry experts assert that what students need most for careers in management — and what they are not getting in schools — are 1) qualifications, 2) experience, 3) management ability, 4) adaptability, and 5) sociability. Justified or not, the perception among many in the industry is that hospitality education is too deeply entrenched in illusory theory and insufficiently grounded in what is actually happening in hotels, restaurants, and other hospitality businesses.

To illustrate, let us imagine a hospitality program graduate assuming his first leadership role in the industry. Now, if our graduate received a typical hospitality education, he likely took a course on leadership and management. This course probably taught him about Henry Mintzberg’s management roles, Fredrick Herzberg’s two-factor theory, Peter Drucker’s management by objectives, Robert Blake and Jane Mouton’s managerial grid, and even Max Weber’s musings on bureaucratic organizational behavior.

However, our graduate is now faced with a valid question: What value (if any) is the rote memorization of these academic theories to his success as a manager? Some would answer none whatsoever. The reality is that academicians, irrespective of discipline, have a notorious reputation for the development and publication of abstract theoretical concepts that are of passing interest and little utility to practitioners. The hospitality industry is no exception.

Right now, hundreds of hospitality researchers are competing to publish in dozens of academic journals tailored specifically to hospitality studies. Yet virtually none of the industry practitioners for whom such research is arguably intended are reading any of it. With this in mind, it shouldn’t be a surprise that a job applicant who underwent four years of indoctrination into such perceivably trivial knowledge is given no more credibility than an applicant who did not.

Some Hospitality Programs Have Taken Cues from Industry Training Best Practices

Most hospitality programs include courses at some level that incorporate content from many of the areas critics cite as deficient, such as management, ethics/law, and communication. Whether the material is practical in nature is another story. However, it is worth noting that many schools have reached out to initiate helpful dialogue with industry partners on these points to guide the strategy for program content.

Accordingly, some hospitality programs have taken cues from industry training best practices. These skill sets are prioritized through careful course design with projects, role-playing scenarios, and even work experience/internships as requirements for graduation in order to emphasize some of the attributes that have been identified as needed most.

Again using UNLV as an example, undergraduate students participate in the operation of a restaurant on campus that is open to the public. Students are responsible for all aspects of the operation from food production to front-of-house management. The goal is to expose them to the realities of the industry.

These same UNLV students are also required to take a class in meetings and events, during which they work with real event planners and clients to take on contracts to plan, budget, coordinate, and execute real events. The goal is to teach them the practical logistics of working in such a capacity. These initiatives are designed specifically to promote real-world, practical skill development and to prepare students for the realities of their future careers.

In the next part of this series, we’ll look at yet another criticism of hospitality education programs: the focus on IQ instead of EQ.

Dr. Gary Deel is a Faculty Director with the School of Business at American Public University. He holds a J.D. in Law and a Ph.D. in Hospitality/Business Management. Gary teaches human resources and employment law classes for American Public University, the University of Central Florida, Colorado State University and others.

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