Home Education Options What Is the Purpose of Hospitality Education? (Part I)
What Is the Purpose of Hospitality Education? (Part I)

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

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By Gary L. Deel, Ph.D., J.D.
Faculty Director, School of Business, American Public University

This is the first 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.

In this series, we’ll explore the connection in perceptions of the value of education between top managers, middle managers and aspiring professionals, in the specific context of a “recycling of values” as it relates to higher education perspectives.

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Is Formal Higher Education Necessary for Career Success in Hospitality?

An argument rages in the field of hospitality between practitioners and academics as to whether formal higher education is really necessary for career success in hospitality. Academics, unsurprisingly, usually argue that college degrees are indeed critically important, much in the same way that lawyers and doctors could not possibly practice without the formal education upon which their professional licenses are predicated.

Many industry practitioners, however, believe that hospitality is a discipline best reserved for field learning. This view asserts that the only thing truly necessary to becoming an expert in hospitality is work experience. And these philosophies within the industry tend to transcend the walls of executive offices and permeate down the organizational chain into all levels of operations.

As such, sometimes a “recycling of values” occurs, wherein future leaders achieve success within the structure of values established by their predecessors, and then go on to perpetuate those same values in their own leadership careers.

Academics and industry practitioners often disagree over whether formal hospitality education programs are effective in preparing students for future industry careers, despite the fact that hospitality education has existed for nearly a century in the United States. Yet schools and universities still struggle in many ways to find common ground with the industry they serve regarding what is needed and how best to deliver it.

Hospitality firms argue that many education programs are outdated, too entrenched in theory to be practically relevant or lacking in the right kinds of curricula to cultivate useful skills in graduates. Hospitality schools contend that the lessons learned in their programs are timeless, that students get as much practical experience as they do theoretical underpinning, and that coursework is built around the development of useful knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs). This discord between academe and industry threatens the future relevance of hospitality education programs.

Socioeconomic Theories Try to Explain the Role that Higher Education Plays in Employment Decisions

Several socioeconomic theories have attempted to explain the precise role that higher education plays (or should play) in the context of employment decisions:

  1. Human Capital Theory holds that higher education is necessary to provide individuals with the KSAs required to do sophisticated jobs in the modern information age.
  2. Credentialist Theory suggests that degrees are merely a way of segmenting social strata and creating monopolies for certain individuals over certain occupational domains.
  3. Job Market Signaling Theory suggests that higher education is used like a marketing tool and a means of communicating certain desirable qualifications to employers so they can reduce the degree of uncertainty when making hiring decisions.
  4. Filtering Theory posits that higher education simply functions to screen applicants so employers can make informed estimates of employee potential productivity based on the extent of their success in higher education.

Although the mechanics may differ, all of these theories at least concede that higher education serves a valid purpose as a factor in employment decisions.

Values Are Learned within a Social Context, According to Social Learning Theory

Another important point is that values, such as those concerning higher education, can be (and often are) learned within a social context. Social Learning Theory suggests that individuals in group environments are likely to adopt the values of those with whom they identify in the group, specifically those values they expect to yield the highest degree of personal benefit. Given the power hierarchy present in typical hospitality organizations, this theory provides an explanation of how and why employees might tend to mirror the values of their managers as they relate to higher education.

With this in mind, we can see a potential pattern whereby values that give rise to certain individuals’ success in a hospitality career might help to mold the views of those individuals whether higher education is essential or even important. These individuals go on to become managers themselves, and we see, consequently, how this cycle might continue. Generation after generation of professionals are influenced by the values of their predecessors, and they then go on to perpetuate those values ad infinitum.

But little is known about the ways in which beliefs and values held by managers can transcend into the mentality of followers. Theoretical research in sociology suggests that such influence is possible and — in light of the power dynamic in such a relationship — even probable. Given the dichotomy of opinions surrounding the value of hospitality education, this problem is too significant to ignore. So in this article series, I will assess the correlation of opinions between hospitality managers and followers on the value of higher education.

In the next part of this series we’ll look more closely at the existing theories that undergird this topic.

About the Author

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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