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One Thing I Would Change About Higher Education

One Thing I Would Change About Higher Education
Our first panel question, "What is one thing you would change about higher education?" sparked some really interesting feedback and ideas

Today, The EvoLLLution is publishing responses to its inaugural panel question, “What is one thing you would change about higher education?

Please be aware, there are four longer responses that have been provided by Elsa Núñez, Philip Lucas, Olufemi Adegun and Jianping Li which have been published in addition to this compendium of shorter responses.

Please read, reflect and engage with the ideas your fellow community members have brought forward as we look to advance the higher education system together.

Laura Apfelbeck | Senior Lecturer, University of Wisconsin, Manitowoc

One thing I’d change about higher education? I’d love to see instructors embrace change. We live on the cusp of an entirely new way of researching, thinking, and knowing. Where once we had to spend hours in the library combing through card catalogs, we can now find the most current materials online and chat with other professionals electronically and even face-to-face through Skype.

We no longer need to be the sage on the stage but can focus on guiding our students toward discovering the processes that will help them become lifelong learners—problem solving, critical thinking members of a local and a global community. That’s so exciting! Yet, as the old saw goes, no one likes change but a wet baby. And so, we see a great deal of resistance. If I could make a change in higher education, I’d like to change the way educators view change.

I’d love to talk with other educators about nontraditional and traditional students and the way they transition to success—similarities and differences.


Daniel Bakos | Professor, Western Georgia University

Firstly, I believe too many of the faculty at institutions of “higher learning” are not interested in doing their job, which I specifically believe to be in the vast majority of institutions, classroom instruction. It seems they all want to teach one or two classes and earn six figure salaries. Dedication doesn’t exist anymore.

Secondly, and furthermore, all the institutions want to kiss the gods of accreditation agencies at the expense of quality education. I believe the folks sitting around in those agencies have too much time on their hands and produce too much paperwork B.S. in the hope of improving education with the real result being a weakening of it.


Hunt Lambert | Associate Provost, Colorado State University

Get the federal government out of higher ed. Keep Pell Grants and financial aid as a public good incentive for people to get educated.

Keep the regional accreditation agencies for quality control but close the Department of Higher Education all together. They add limited value and drive costs up dramatically in K-12 and HE with a never ending stream of new regulations written by people who have never taught in or administered at a university.

Recently the state registration process added about $300,000 per year of cost to all providers of online and distance learning. $300,000 times about 2,000 of us is a $600,000,000 price tag. You can fix the private abuses by legislatively limiting their share of revenue from Title IV to 60% and then almost none of the other rules created to limit them, but mostly punishing the much smaller public providers, are needed.


Brad Herrick | Professor, University of Texas at Austin

I teach college freshman-level chemistry. What I see in the classroom are poorly prepared students, both academically (prerequisite materials and courses) and survival-wise (time management, study habits, etc)… and it is getting worse as the years pass on.

What would I change in higher education right now? I am a pretty strong believer that the lecture, if it is to be used, should be given at an application level. That is, it should be a series of higher-order thinking skills or problem-solving exercises or critical discussions and NOT teaching, per se.

The background material should be presented online in a “hold them accountable” format. By that I mean material is presented… then assessed. If they don’t pass the assessment, they can’t come to lecture. After all, what would be the point of them attending if they don’t have the requisite background material and exercises mastered?

Imagine a Literature professor assigning a chapter or chapters from a novel, followed by online assessment questions to shape the coming lecture’s discussions, and only allowing those in the discussion that read the material and passed the assessment? Can you imagine the quality of that discussion… knowing that all present were best-prepared for it?


Les Sasaki | Professor, Sheridan College

If I were to make one change to higher education at Sheridan, I would reduce class sizes.

I teach a couple of studio courses in Art Fundamentals. Our class limits are 30 and 32 but this term, for some reason, I have more than that. The large class sizes makes it difficult to give each student individual attention.

Also, even though one class may be 30 students, there seem to be several subset classes within that one, based on either a strong contrast in students’ motivation, academic level and competence. In such a situation the eager students don’t get your full attention, the poor students seem to be wasting their time the downright poor students steal time from everyone.

In such classes it is more difficult to get class unity in place. This hampers communication and students then feel its ok not to be part of this big class.


Karen Smith | Instructor, Sir Sanford Fleming College

One of the consistent problems I have observed here at Fleming College is the increasing number of part-time rather than full-time faculty. This leads to individuals only remaining with the college for a few years until they get a full-time position elsewhere leading to frequent turnovers and a lack of consistency for students.

I feel that the overall educational process suffers when faculty are not fully invested in what they are teaching and are forced to split their time between teaching and another job.


Frank Gouin | Professor Emeritus of Horticulture, University of Maryland

There is too much theory and not enough applied. There are too many professors teaching pie in the sky in place of actual facts. There is a need for more laboratory work, field work etc.

Philosophy is great but the greatest need is today’s problems, past solutions and the need to teach simplicity. The computer is great in looking at probability but students need hands-on experience.


Barbara Smith | School Improvement Director, Jalen Rose Leadership Academy

What I would change about higher education in the US is the “sameness” of admissions.

Students must line up at the SAT and SAT trough that somehow has been given elevated status in terms of being the ultimate determiner of who will best succeed at college. We have known for decades that males lag behind females intellectually until grade 11 or 12. How is it that US colleges pay attention to the GPA, a score that averages grade 9 and 10 scores into the final result? How unfair and limiting is that?

Canada (ranked 2-5 in the world in terms of PISA) looks at the students’ grades at the end of grade 11 and the start of grade 12 before making these extremely important admission decisions.

Perhaps a solution is to insist that admission staff have a minimum of an MEd degree, so they can understand the limitations of standardized tests and challenge the validity and reliability of the GPA computed over four years of high school. It is amazing to me that a country steeped in a reputation that challenges “sameness” would let this go on and on and on.

Admission teams can lead or follow. I’d like to hear about those who break out of the “sameness” mold.


Shauna Longmuir | Professor, Sir Sanford Fleming College

With the rapidly expanding role of technology in our classrooms I would like to see greater access to working technology for both the students and the instructors. If we are going to rely on technology it has to be accessible and functioning.

I would like to see technology that always works in the classroom. This means that a move to support redesigning of curriculum through technology and services is imperative. Oftentimes small changes that could enhance student utility are not possible. I would like to see more access to computers and computers that operate faster. I would like time to explore how technology could enhance the delivery of my curriculum. If we are going to make these shifts it’s important that they run smoothly and that they are user-friendly. I suppose I am looking more for technology that is user-friendly. The barrier should not be using the technology.


Ian Ridpath | Lecturer, Sheridan College

My biggest concern is the huge numbers of profs/lecturers who cannot speak English well enough to be understood. They think they are speaking correctly but the combination of words used, grammar and accent make it quite difficult to understand them.

They are usually ESL and I have sat in on classes and labs and even I have trouble understanding them—they are good and intelligent people but cannot speak English well enough to make themselves understood.

You can image how the students struggle—even when they may be of similar culture/language but are speaking and trying to teach in English.

There has to be an English Teaching Comprehension and Speaking Ability screening for all post-secondary instructors if they are to teach here in Canada.


Mila Johnston | Instructor, University of Alabama

I think higher ed needs less lecture and more problem-solving lessons for students. There needs to be more team project-based learning activities that mirror what the world of work requires.


Danne Johnson | Professor of Law, Oklahoma City University

The world is changing but education is not. We need to make higher education relevant, hands-on and solution oriented. We need discussion, exploration, and testing in the field. We need enhanced experiences with other humans. We need to front load the philosophy, process through experience, and then re-group and re-orient.


Neal Woodbury | Professor, Arizona State University

The answer to your question has two parts. Both are very simple and probably obvious:

  1. Even though there are nearly infinite informational resources available at our fingertips now, which makes lecturing in the sense of information transfer completely redundant, it has proven very difficult to move away from the information distribution format of professor/student interaction into something which is interactive and based on utilizing information effectively. Oddly, the greatest resistance to this change comes from the students who have been trained since they were young to receive information in this archaic way rather than to search for information needed to understand problems or applications. Beyond this, there is a logistical problem of engaging large numbers of students in such an experience, but this can be solved if we are willing to change the structure of the interaction and the interaction space (which, actually, I think the University is willing to do).
  2. The reward structure for faculty in universities is completely outdated. It is based on our role to create new fundamental information (research) and distribute it (teaching and publication), which at one level is OK, but it is focused on the individual’s lone achievement. If we are to solve (1) and if the university is to play the critical role of translating new discoveries into practical benefit for the communities that support them on a time-scale relevant to technology change in the world, we must learn to evaluate our individual contribution to this joint effort, rather than reward faculty entirely on what they, as individuals, accomplished in their narrow fields of endeavor. This is actually not logistically very hard to do, but it represents a fundamental value change within the university. That is very hard indeed.

Check out more responses to the question “What is one thing you would change about higher education?” here!

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