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Focusing on What’s Best

Institutions need to go back to basics and deliver specific learning focused on specific businesses, rather than trying to be all things to all people. Photo by Sittered.

From my experience and from my research, no industry is immune to the waves of continuous change that is going to be required to move forward.  We call ourselves the higher education industry and we have accreditation standards to meet in order to obtain money.  We also have standards to meet in order to obtain research money.  But certain personality types perceive standards as set in stone the way that personality type sees it; whereas other personality types are more concerned with other interpretations of the standard.  Add to that I have never met an educator who was not convinced he/she was delivering quality instruction with academic rigor.  This is called “cognitive dissonance” and it rules rampant when discussing changes in curriculum and instruction for example.  Yet despite all of this turmoil, many, many colleges and universities around the world are being creative.  As I search for programs for myself which meet the needs I perceive I have in order to reach some professional goals, I am amazed at the creativity of some of our colleges and universities.

Many are partnering with universities overseas and some are even partnering with other universities in their accreditation area.  Some are recruiting instructors with the offer for them to design and develop their own courses which fit in one of the current offerings and present a proposal.  Some are even bundling the behavioral sciences and offering true cross disciplinary degrees.  These universities I have found do not have an enrollment problem, nor are they experiencing high attrition.  I have even been able to speak to faculty and deans of large universities to ask questions and receive feedback and mentoring from them and feel they are in fact doing a lot of things right.

The trend of adding degree programs and course offerings to attract everyone and anyone seems to be coming to an end.  It is a given that online degree program offerings will continue to expand.  It is also a given that there is a large body of institutions that focus on meeting the needs of the traditional high school graduate straight from school and they do that well.  Will these universities continue to offer the liberal arts degrees?  I truly hope so.  I understand math and science scores in this nation compared to others is abysmal, but I also truly believe it is in the liberal arts and the behavioral sciences that true creativity and innovation are grounded, particularly in the area of leadership.  Some of my clients in the technology field read poetry and discuss it in open management meetings to stretch the mind.  So, for those who are concerned with students structuring the mandated courses, I foresee a continuation of the model that has worked for so long.

Ideally, each college and university administrator, manager, instructor would form partnerships with those organizations it serves, or industries that are growing in those institution’s local areas.  In order to do so, identification of the customer and potential customer base needs to happen.  Universally, if discussions on the LinkedIn boards and in professional associations hold true, there is not even true “buy in” on the internal workings and offering of the university needing to change or in any customer relationship whatsoever.

There is one additional fact and that is the image or “brand” if you wish of your organization is actually the students themselves and those individuals who directly come in contact with those individuals.  Some of my students view the college/university as helpful and nice and concerned based on interactions with enrollment specialists, academic advisors, financial aid advisors.  Others (the majority) base their perception on the faculty.  When it comes down to raw facts, my students each believe that the money for tuition is spent on me, the faculty member they are interacting with.  Although many are quite aware of overhead on a concept scale, but as the saying I hate goes “at the end of the day” that money is for me, the instructor, to do a good job.  Let’s be honest, for some universities the value of education is defined by the importance placed into the sports program , as this can actually help in networking down the line.  However, the focus comes off the quality of teaching and learning—a fact that doesn’t escape students.

The true message of this article is that no organization can be, nor should it be, all things to all people.  Each institution needs to go back to the basics of determining exactly what business it needs to be in and what it will look like throughout the organization and in the world if and when that business is focused on, as a team, making that vision happen for each student each and every time.  A helpful hint would be to draw a four sided box of what truly is fixed as a standard which must be met, define the sides (only 4 and do not get into a writing contest) and then brainstorm all that could happen inside the box.  If I were your consultant I would not allow one side of the box to be accreditation standards or those involved will either be in for a marathon which deadlocks or a fast and sweet conclusion which precludes change.

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