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Accountability: Dictating The Future Of Higher Education

Accountability: Dictating The Future Of Higher Education
Educators and higher education institutions need to be accountable to their customers—their students—and deliver them the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the future workforce. Photo by Michael David Pedersen.

I am one year into my online doctorate in Education, teach at three universities and counting, have over 90 graduate credit hours in liberal arts, management and education technology, and am proud of 30+ years spent in training and organizational development. I not only believe in lifelong learning but I exemplify it by my behavior. I have never attempted to consult with higher education on organizational change, partly because I am a traditionalist, but practically because of the numerous restraining factors in the industry. But I now “stick my toes in the water” because of the factors I see facing us as nations, but also as a planet.

The proliferation of for-profits and the competition for student dollars that is occurring is one force pushing change. I have not perceived large scale organizational change as a result of for-profits entering the game; however, the notion of higher education actually having a customer is definitely being discussed, much to the dismay of many educators.

For those who gag at the idea of student as customer, there is an additional notion of the community and business as a customer. From my years in training and organizational development I am aware that billions of dollars each year are spent on training and development. A very small fraction of this amount actually is spent in our traditional higher education venues. A client recently told me that $8.2 billion was spent last year on teaching employees to read and write. As I teach English composition among other subjects, I find that appalling. We are clearly not doing our job or meeting what I perceive as a moral and ethical responsibility. In the k-12 arena businesses are actually taking over schools and running them to improve the human resource pool available for the community’s businesses. Community colleges and technical schools are increasing and focusing on meeting the needs of business.

Since the popularity of Toffler, corporations and businesses in the US have popularized the idea of our being a nation of knowledge workers. Lifelong learning is emphasized in our media and within companies. Manufacturing is moving overseas and our technology processes are standardized, improved upon and taken over with cheaper labor on the international front. HR departments are putting requirements for a degree in positions paying barely above minimum wage. But business continuously laments that those graduating from universities and colleges are unprepared to perform in the world at a level needed without massive amounts of dollars in training being spent. Degree popularity ebbs and flows, apparently the liberal arts degree and dinosaurs are together, but leadership, change, human resource management, etc. are everywhere. The customer needs to just peruse the list of topics, peruse the degree title, answer the phone and enrollment begins.

Accountability is now being scrutinized. The student loan debt in the US has reached $3 trillion according to Meet the Press (3/25/12) and promises of typical graduates earning over a million more in their lifetime than non-degreed competition are awaiting fulfillment. More and more corporations are creating X University and offering their own accreditation programs. Jack Welch of GE fame has his own university/institute. The long awaited partnerships between business and education could finally be on the precipice of happening.

With this accountability, many questions remain. What is effective teaching? What measures have application outside of measuring cognitive knowledge over the course of a term? Are we willing to pay those who teach well; what we pay for a consultant in the “real world” for that knowledge, even if the consultant/teacher is not from Harvard. How did our education system which was ranked number one in the world fall to number 9? Are we teaching for the future to meet future needs and actually providing our customers with students well qualified in innovation and creativity, but even more important the capability of truly communicating with others? The economy actually depends on our getting it right. As a teacher I feel this is my responsibility and my customers can hold me accountable, as they do when I am in my role of consultant.

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