The End of Higher Education (As We Know It)?

The End of Higher Education (As We Know It)?

Welcome to the first week of my new scheduling plan! I’ll be posting regularly on Tuesdays and Fridays so make sure to watch this space for my new stuff as it goes up each week. I may post some surprises on Thursdays as I have time, but you can definitely count on hearing from me twice a week. So, what am I focused on today? The end of the current higher education system- nothing too deep…

OK, so that’s probably not something to throw around so easily- but it’s definitely something that folks have been talking about for years. I definitely recall hearing people question our current university system and its sustainability since I was about to complete my undergraduate work six years ago, and the conversation has only become louder since then. Much of the work that I did in my grad program in higher education focused on higher education reform, so it’s a topic that I’m familiar with and actually enjoy discussing. After all, I’ve spent roughly seven years and more money than I want to say publically at the moment investing in my career in higher education administration, so I definitely have an investment in our system’s continued existence and think about what effect the changing landscape of higher education will do to my career often. That’s probably why I was captivated by a recent article from on the “perfect storm” heading for higher education– and judging by my Facebook news feed and Twitter timeline many of my friends and colleagues were as well. The piece that popped up over the weekend notes that rising prices that are out of the average family’s reach, technological disruptions, and parent dissatisfaction are all major threats to the current system of things and that most schools will not escape the “storm” unscathed, particularly if they continue business as usual.

For my part, I think that the three factors brought forth by the author are definitely worth consideration, but I have a few thoughts about the article overall and what those in the field should be thinking about:

  • First, as much as I think the way that we do higher education in this country should and will have to change going forward, I’m usually really wary of articles that preach that the sky is falling, the end is near and we’re all going to die… or rather, lose our jobs. American higher education has changed a great deal since the first students started classes at Harvard nearly 380 years ago, but if you look back, we’re doing much of what our forebears were doing 50 years ago or more- anyone who works in this field can tell you that the Academy moves at a glacial pace unless it’s forced to. Are we being forced to? Yes, and no- students are still showing up and wanting education, and the fact that people still take out second mortgages on their homes to give their kids that education- right or wrong- shows that the demand is there. As long as that’s still the case, I’m not ready to run into the panic room yet.
  • It’s great that we’re finally focusing on the rising costs of college for students, but while we’re doing that, are we looking at the other financial crisis of higher education- the sharp decrease in public funding that led to our overdependence on tuition? Somewhere along the line, we as a society got the idea that education was more of a private good than a public good; this happened for a variety of reasons and didn’t happen overnight, but it’s gotten worse in recent years. Thinking that we can cut tuition costs without reevaluating our public commitment to educating even the least fortunate of us is the real delusion.
  • I’m all for the technological revolution in higher education triggering changes and disrupting the order of things- anything that makes my life more efficient and helps the students I work with gets my vote- but I think that we put too much stock in the power of technology to radically change life at times. Online classes and course management systems have been around for years, but last time I checked the University of Phoenix and other online schools haven’t completely taken over the world. For one, as great as these tools are, they haven’t completely figured out how to supplant a brick-and-mortar course experience for every kind of learner. I recently started a class on EdX in computer science and ended up having to walk away for a variety of reasons, but one of which was that not having a “real” classroom experience made it much harder to keep up with difficult material. It’s also important to recognize that if college were solely about the academics, online formats would have taken over a long time ago. At least for right now, students still value the power of a campus experience, even if they are accessing it as commuters, and that’s another aspect of college that the online schools haven’t been able to translate to the World Wide Web. Disruptive technologies can’t be ignored, for sure- but assuming that everyone will use them isn’t the right approach either. There will likely always be a population, however dwindling, that wants the traditional college experience- so we can’t abandon it completely.
  • Finally, I understand that we’re focused on parental dissatisfaction because for many students they are paying the bills, but for an increasing group they aren’t; the 18-22 year old student coming straight from high school who’s dependent on Mom and Dad’s money is not the only student in our population and giving into Mom and Dad’s whims may not be a great idea. For instance, turning college into solely a job skills acquisition project instead of the broader educational project it should be just for the sake of getting employment could really backfire on us. Life is so much more than finding a good paying job- not that I’m diminishing that necessity, which I think at times some of us who were privileged enough to have a solid liberal arts education inadvertently do- and the necessary skills evolve every day as the global market changes. The skills one needs today WILL NOT be the skills one needs twenty years from now- but skills like critical thinking, reading comprehension, writing, verbal communication, etc. that you get from a solid college experience will never go out of style. Disregarding other concerns like diversity, institutional responsibility and student satisfaction in favor of doing what parents want because they pay the bills is also foolish for another reason- from personal experience, parents also tend to pay close attention to what their kids want from school and are just as willing to pull the checkbook back when their kids are unhappy as when parents themselves are unhappy. Try telling students that you’re not going to give them what they want because their parents don’t agree- I bet you after the fight, you’ll hear a different tune from Mom and Dad. Student needs and services are just as important as getting a job and walking away debt-free, so we need to strike a balance when possible.

Overall, I thought the article raised some great questions, and I’m never one to trust just one source so here are a few more voices to balance out what’s written in the Time piece (of course, they’re TEDX videos- you’ve read enough of my text):

So, do I think that we’re near the end? Possibly– but I don’t think panic, despair, denial or anger are either necessary or helpful. I DO think that we need to think about how to make what comes next work both academically and personally for our students and for us as professionals.

Read the article already? Thoughts on what this means for higher education? Feel free to share below! See you back here Friday morning for Pheature Phriday!


PROTIP Phriday XIII: So Unlucky It’s Been Abbreviated…

Protip Phriday XIII: So Unlucky

I almost didn’t do this post- as one of the leaders for Winter staff training in my office, my time to do things not related to work is about to evaporate until mid next week, but I figured that I could still come in here and at least put up a few PROTIPs after being so inspired by entitled Ivy League brats the best and brightest of the next generation who’ve chosen to e-mail me about their First World Problems this week. No, I don’t really care that the room you’ve been guaranteed and that you probably wouldn’t have had you gone to school someplace else has a roommate in it because I have a training weekend to run. No, I’m really not interested in hearing the 70-11 reasons you need to skip training you’ve known about for six months because I have Computer Science class homework to do before Monday. And no, I don’t care that you’ve had to deal with a minor inconvenience when there are people half a world away who probably just thank God they wake up in the morning healthy because I’m tired and don’t feel like it… so suck it up and deal 🙂

So yes, I figured some PROTIPs would be just what the doctor ordered before I immerse myself in college student drama again… there’s absolutely no way that they can STAY on break for another month (or six), is there? However, I’ve decided to post fewer than the usual ten- I’m hoping that I make up for it with some better quality material (and if not you, like the students on my campus, will deal).

Now that I’ve finished my rant…

This Week’s PROTIPs:

PROTIP: In a year where African-Americans have been attacked or ignored on almost every front and where you could throw a rock and hit a half dozen solid performances from AfAm actors, nominating a sea full of bland White people and bland White people movies for Oscars ain’t a good look. #BlackActorsMatter

PROTIP: As much as I advocate using the blogosphere as your soapbox, harassing and belittling people whom you want something from by calling them “sweetheart” when they are older than you, outrank you, and have degrees that cost more than your life is worth is foolhardy at best and a qualifier for a ticket to Podunk U at worst. Don’t wonder why you feel disrespected when you can’t bother to give anyone else respect…sweetheart 🙂

PROTIP: If you move back to your hometown after being away for a while and find yourself running into old acquaintances you’re not hoping to see, it may be time to think about moving. If you find yourself running into your parents’ old acquaintances.. not only is it time to move, but it’s probably advisable to disappear into the night to the nearest big city, even if you have to live in a cardboard box.

PROTIP: Taking tips from others about child rearing is a tricky business… but you can usually assume that any advice from people who regale others with tales from their childhood that sound like the beginning of a serial killer’s biography is best avoided. Unless you’re actively attempting to raise a mini-Bundy or Dahmer, that is.

PROTIP: If you, like Naya Rivera, think that hygiene is a ethnic-specific project and feel the need to share this insight with the rest of the world, do us all a favor and go wade in the nearest body of water until you’re bathing your eyelids. A good brainwashing never hurt anyone- especially the stupid.

PROTIP: The last time I checked, taking a job meant that you planned on fulfilling ALL of its requirements, not just the ones you WANT to do… unless you want to work somewhere where they pay you when THEY feel like it or when it’s convenient. But hey, I was raised by wolves and just happened to make it to not one, not two, but three top schools- pay no attention to me because I clearly don’t know what I’m talking about.

PROTIP: Finally, lucky number seven- if you’re one of those people who outwardly claim that you’re betting on good luck, karma, etc. to bring you the life you want on a silver platter, when in reality you depend on the kindness and naivety of others to get by while you get over, may you never have the misfortune of getting involved with me. I always bet on Black- meaning covering my own Black behind before worrying about other people and their bullish excuses- so please know that won’t work on me. KTHXBAI!

Hope you enjoyed this week’s shortened PROTIP Phriday- next Monday may or may not feature a post on my thoughts around diversity and some reflections on MLK Day. I’ll be spending my day on Monday reflecting, herding cats (read: training young paraprofessionals) and attending an event sponsored by my office featuring a screening of the documentary “The New Black” and a Q&A session with the filmmaker, Yoruba Richen- feel free to join me if you’re in the area (details below). Until next time, leave your entitlement and childhood horror stories at the door- see you soon…


Proof that I actually DO work outside of writing this blog… an event that I helped plan- join us if you’re in the Providence area.

PS: If you’re one of my students who found this blog after my mentioning it in “Don’t Be a Meme” this coming weekend, good work and welcome to GotDegrees! To prove to me that you actually found it on your own, text or e-mail me the word PROTIP. You may (or may not) get a prize…

PROTIP Phriday X: The Grinch Who Stole Kwanzaa

The Grinch That Stole Kwanzaa
My tiny heart grows three sizes whenever I put someone on blast…

I’m really beginning to think there’s a conspiracy against me at this point- pizza delivery boys and girls (I’ll address them as adults when they act like them- more on that in a bit), dysfunctional students, random people in clubs… are all banding together to piss me off- and it’s working. I’ve spent much of the past week with my student staff helping them to take stock of the semester and their experiences, but to be quite honest the overwhelming majority of them could have done that just fine on their own.

I think I really needed to help some of the severely misguided people around me take stock of themselves and their failings this week- but because it’s too late to do that ( and I don’t get paid enough to do other people’s dirty work), I’ll just get them together with a PROTIP or two. I’m guessing that by now you’ve figured out that last week’s PROTIP Phriday “There may be cursing and moodiness” warning applies again… so without further ado, the PROTIPs:

Continue reading PROTIP Phriday X: The Grinch Who Stole Kwanzaa