Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Our Traditional and Very Expensive U.S. Colleges Are on the Endangered Species List

The cost of college has skyrocketed the past few decades. However, the outcomes in the way of better educated graduates haven't kept up with the escalating cost of attendance. The 'value proposition' has weakened dramatically.

Now a leading educator is predicting that traditional colleges belong on the endangered species list and that both the cost and quality of our system of higher education need huge improvements.

Incoming Philly Fed chief says universities may become extinct offers this timely warning:

"In an op-ed written last month for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the head of the University of Delaware (Patrick Harker) says there is a crisis coming in higher education.

“America’s universities are pricing themselves out of the reach of the middle class,” he wrote, ending his column by saying they could become extinct if they don’t change."

See external link to Harker’s op-ed --- excerpts of which follow:

"Those of us who daily enjoy the grand settings of America's established universities may be forgiven for thinking they will last forever. . . .

But there's a crisis coming, and you don't need an advanced business degree to see it. America's universities are pricing themselves out of the reach of the middle class. . . . state funding for higher education continues to erode, and bills keep getting higher. . . . The average cost in the United States is now $27,900 for in-state and $40,000 for out-of-state. Many parents are being forced to choose between their own future and their children's.

Something has to give.

The market has already begun to sort this out. Smart students are going online to find innovative, less expensive degree paths. Take, for example, the start-up Minerva Schools . . . . This program offers an online core curriculum focused on critical-thinking skills in the first year, and it presents its courses in a fast-paced, interactive format that is far more challenging than a traditional classroom. The brains behind Minerva and other such efforts are rethinking what a college education means and seeking to offer a superior education at a radically lower cost. . . .

A select few institutions like Harvard and Yale may have the resources to weather any storm, but the rest of us need to adapt, and quickly. I'm talking about radical change.

How? By rethinking both our mission and our methods.

In business terms, we need to improve our "value proposition," which at the university is our curriculum. We must better define what we offer and then figure out how to offer it more efficiently. At most universities, including UD, curriculum design is left to the faculty. Professors decide what to teach and when, depending on their interests and availability. Students choose from a buffet of courses and schedules designed to suit instructors. The system is teacher-centric.

We need to become learner-centric. What are the things that students need to learn most today? How can we deliver that learning in a way that suits the customer? When we teach workplace skills that are being effortlessly handled by computers, we're wasting time and money. We should be focusing on things that computers can't do well, at least not yet: things like thinking creatively, finding patterns in seemingly unrelated systems, and mastering complex forms of communication....

There are basic courses that all incoming students in the sciences or the humanities need to take. Why not identify them and then, using technological tools and a variety of faculty models - a mix of tenured and nontenured instructors - find ways to offer them efficiently? This would not only achieve economy of scale, but it would also enable us to make better use of our costliest resource, faculty time. A well-designed core would free professors in most departments to do the kind of work they most prefer, teaching advanced seminars and mentoring students one on one.

Technology is not the answer to our problems, but it should be part of it. Innovative educators go a lot further today than posting classroom lectures online; they employ multiple platforms and interactive tools that in some ways engage and challenge students more completely than even the best-run classroom. Because they can be accessed from anywhere, and in some cases at any time, they can accommodate many more students than a standard classroom session, and at lower cost.

We are past the need for incremental change; we need significant leaps.

If we don't change rapidly and dramatically, . . . the university as we know it might well become extinct."

Patrick T. Harker is the president of the University of Delaware.


The time for cheap and time wasting talk is over.

The time for real and effective remedial action is now.

We need both a dramatically lower cost and higher quality system of higher education in America.

And we need that better system asap.

What once was the world's best system of higher education is no longer up to the challenge.

That's my take and Patrick Harker's as well.

Thanks. Bob.

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