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

J

PHEATURE Phriday 2: Our Obsession With Meetings

PHEATURE Phriday 2: Our Obsession With Meetings

Hey All! Happy Friday the 13th! I’m back after an unannounced day off earlier this week (done for my own sanity) with another PHEATURE Phriday and some exciting news. The nameless, faceless person who owned the domain name I wanted for this blog when I started it months ago forgot to renew (or more likely whoever bought the domain to sit on it forgot to renew), and after a small purchase on WordPress, I can finally christen this blog GotDegrees.com! You can still get here using GotDegrees.org or GotDegrees.wordpress.com, but now following your instincts when looking for my page will actually get you here instead of to a error page! Trust me, if you know the kind of week I’ve had you’d know how much of a win this is for me right now… but enough about that…

What am I featuring this week? Everyone’s favorite part of the workday, the ever-present meeting (and in most cases why we usually hate them). For some reason lately, folks are turning their attention to meetings, why we have them, and why they can so frequently turn into massive time sucks and sources of frustration. I first became aware of this recent trending topic via an article posted on NPR’s website based on a clip from Morning Edition roughly two weeks ago. The post made some interesting points- including highlighting just how many hours we spend in meetings, preparing for meetings,  having meetings to prepare for other meetings, or otherwise thinking about meetings (9 hours per week on average), noting that meetings are usually more effective at delaying decisions than actually making them, and that in most cases there’s a huge disconnect between the people who plan meetings and those who sit (or struggle) through them on a basis. I’m working on a future piece on meetings in higher ed and what I personally look for in a meeting that will pop up here soon, so I’ll withhold some of my personal judgments on meetings and just say that the piece struck a chord with me and raised questions around what can be done to make meetings that I run and that I participate in more palatable.

The NPR post must have done the same for other people, because earlier this week the following infographics popped up on my social media feeds:

webready_wendy-macnaughton-meeting-flowchart-for-ted-1

MeetingFlowChart2

The first comes from a post on TED.com on calling meetings; the second comes from a similar post on Huffington Post that I saw yesterday. Both spoke to the introvert in me- while I’m perfectly capable of working with groups of people and of a high level of social interaction, I definitely prefer to do business electronically if there’s no critical reason to meet in person. Finally, I wanted to share a related TED Talk on meetings that was linked on the page with the first infographic- it gets at some of the points that I will eventually talk about in my post on meetings in higher education and sums everything up really well in my opinion. Check it out:

What are your thoughts on our obsession with meetings? Are there specific tactics you use to make meetings that you run productive and enjoyable? Keep an eye out for my post on meetings coming next week and enjoy your weekend!

J

 

 

 

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

GotDegrees Micropost: MLK Day, Diversity and The New Black

GotDegrees Micropost: Reflections on Diversity and The New Black

Happy MLK Day! I actually intended to write a much longer post today, but I’ve been fully invested in my office’s Winter training session. However, I couldn’t let today pass without at least acknowledging Martin Luther King Jr. and his contributions to our society and the world at large. Many people will take today as an opportunity to do some reflection, look into MLK’s legacy, and talk more about issues of identity, cultural exchange, social justice, and activism- I’ll personally be attending a public screening of documentary The New Black and an intimate conversation with the filmmaker, fellow Brunonian Yoruba Richen (Class of 1994) as a way to do so and to think about modern-day applications of Dr. King’s message. If I had some more free time, I would go see Selma as well- there’s always next weekend…

Anyway, I’ll write a longer post on my thoughts about diversity and social justice and how we can think about these topics in a nuanced way later, but today I wanted to share some TED talks that I think are particularly appropriate for the occasion by, including one by Yoruba Richen for those who haven’t seen The New Black (if you haven’t, find it and watch ASAP). Diversity and identity are at the center of each of these talks, but in addition the speakers look at the subjects from different perspectives: feeling “othered” as a member of multiple cultures and identities, intersectionality of race and sexual orientation, identity in the academy, acknowledging and embracing our biases in a post-Trayvon Martin/Mike Brown/Eric Garner world, and the need for counternarratives in our society. Selecting women of color was a specific intention of mine- as we think about the “New Black” both in the context of Yoruba’s film and in general, it’s important to me that voices that may have previously been silenced get heard, especially on a day like this. Watch one, two or all of them when you have time- more to come from me on this.

Thandie Newton, Embracing Otherness, Embracing Myself:

Dr. Marylin Sanders Mobley, The Paradox of Diversity:

Yoruba Richen, What The Gay Rights Movement Learned From The Civil Rights Movement:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, The Danger of A Single Story:

Verna Myers, How To Overcome Our Biases? Walk Boldly Toward Them:

Enjoy the day, watch the videos, and take a little time to reflect on where we were, where we are and where we should be going. More on my thoughts on diversity in the coming weeks- be back on Wednesday with a post on Breaking Bad and Student Affairs (way to shift gears, huh?).

J

GotDegrees Micropost: Reflections on MLK and The New Black