Published on 2012/04/17

The Road to Higher Education is Paved with Challenges, Nay - Opportunity

The Road to Higher Education is Paved with Challenges, Nay – Opportunity
It's time for higher education leaders to get on the freeway toward a new, aligned future for the industry. Photo by Robert S. Donovan.

Alignment. We know what that means when it comes to our vehicles’ front ends, or when we hear CEO’s of corporations talking about their organization’s ability to align their employees with the goals of the company (which hopefully are aligned with the expectations of their customers). From an educational perspective, I for one feel that we have been driving down the same old bumpy road for a long time, and the steering wheel is now vibrating too harshly to ignore the fact that as an industry we need to realign our wheels, or face running off the road entirely.

Over the past few years, so much of what made higher education successful has simply changed. Content, which we all knew was king, is now for the most part available to anyone free of charge. Attending classes no longer requires getting out of bed and, in many cases, doesn’t require interaction with another human being. Budgets for education have been slashed, and tariffs for cross state border learning have been tabled despite the enormous need to educate an ever-growing workforce. People with degrees find themselves in unemployment lines and the average learner no longer fits the traditional mold of the 18-22 year old living on campus and going to school full time.

Students today want just-in-time learning to gain employment or a higher paying job. Degrees are not necessarily as important as learning outcomes and life experiences (which one day may be trumpeted with badges as opposed to a parchment). These 21st century learners have choices. Empowered by technology’s broad reach, they act more like a consumer than a student, comparing products and selecting the best fit for their individualized needs. What’s more, today’s learners are learners for life. Gone is the norm of a once in a lifetime education.

Costs have changed dramatically over the years, but the system hasn’t. Governments are spending less money on education (in a per capita sense) than ever before, but are directing institutions to do more, do it better and do it more efficiently.

Our education system was designed centuries ago—its roots go back millenniums—but instead of rethinking and reconstructing this tuition-revenue model from the 1600s, we simply keep repaving the surface while ignoring the underpinning foundations. Perhaps it is time to reimagine our educational system altogether? What if we were a start up nation, without any outdated infrastructure or preconceived ideas on how an educational system is “supposed” to work. Suppose we simply started again from scratch. Can you imagine?

We’ve gone through this minor repaving process so many times already that we have now hit definite cross roads, presenting two options. For those who believe everything is business as usual, they had better grab the steering wheel tightly, as the road is only going to get bumpier. For those who choose to evolve, it’s an opportunity to get on the freeway and create a whole new vision. This is no trivial matter and requires complete alignment in concept, in funding and in execution, all the way from the highest offices, down to today’s learner.

We as EvoLLLutionists can make this happen. It is up to all of us to ensure that our voices are heard, and more importantly that we are all listening to one another.

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Readers Comments

Remy Karrington 2012/02/17 at 7:34 am

I couldn’t agree more that this is needed, but it’s easier said than done. My concern is that in order to overhaul the system on a grand scale, we need to wipe out the existing one. And while that holds true promise for the students of tomorrow, what happens to the students of today? The period before a new system is established will be one rife with trial and error in terms of the methods used to teach and the credentials used to verify outcomes.

Jerome Myers 2012/02/20 at 9:26 am

Remy – the answer can’t be sticking our head in the sand and saying “what about the students now?”

Sometimes to make an omelet you need to break an egg, and the higher education omelet is in dire need of innovation, risk-taking and belief. Because we’re at a point where the alternative to a transition period to a better future is utter collapse and failure.

Gloria Ameny-Dixon 2012/02/20 at 2:47 pm

I agree, absolutely! I have suggested ways to transform higher education in my book “Tranforming higher Education to Prepare Global Leaders”, recently released on at
I would be bald to share my view on this if you post a link to my book on your website.

Philip Lucas 2012/02/22 at 12:21 pm

I do not agree the old must be torn down to create a new learning model. And the analogy to the car is misleading, since education has evolved far beyond the car, and will continue to change rapidly much the same as technology leaps forward exponentially.

No it is time to move the school not remake it. The schools need to be part the business and industrial complex in each town and city across the country. The campus model now needs to include warehouses, office buildings, research and development seed sites and all manner of real world organizations.

If there is a hospital, there needs to be a school associated with it to develop skilled students in every facet of that medical business. Similarly an automotive complex needs an education component attached, as does a transit business, eateries, distribution and well everything including pubic services.

The schools need to have access to the real world and real experience on a daily basis where a student can take a series of courses to discover the requirements of that particular business or service.

Perhaps the main school campus could house the R&D sites to develop ideas for the real world and then test or incorporate these ideas in the actual businesses.

I do thing it is very important for students to have a solid basic level of education and this must save their innate curiosity and adventurism, after all we need everyone to embrace change and newness as this is the only truth going forward.

So remodel grade school and secondary school to evolve happier and more eager students.

Encourage local colleges, universities and other education centres to associate with an industry or business to learn new skills and apply them. Then to leap forward again to a new challenge. Schools in this model can ensure the students are getting skills currently needed and experience, a career or some length of work to determine if they want to do that work or keep on learning.

Yes education needs to keep evolving and if we fail to breath the same air as the country around us it is likely we will not evolve fast enough or in the direction needed both by business and student.

Mark Leuba 2012/02/23 at 9:54 am

Obviously the innovative tools available today present a huge opportunity to address very important issues, the timing could not be better.

However, emphasis on education strictly as a means for employment should be tempered in my opinion (and this comes from a lifelong and proud capitalist); we need not jump from one extreme to another to evolve as needed. Lifelong learning should support the economically driven needs of society and those “volunteer” students of all ages that are curious and passionate about learning.

Issues such as the rising costs of managing an institution and the related affordability of college, the worldwide competitive pressures requiring new workforce skills, and time demands placed on adult learners by their employers and families – all call out for a more responsive approach to education, a student centered approach.

Conventional wisdom is that natural selection will continue to chip away on the historic, institution-focused model and evolutionary change will happen, slowly and steadily. Darwin said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change”.

If I were an institutional leader, department head or member of the faculty, I would want to lead the change – not simply be changed by it; and I would act now. I would review everything done in my organizational scope and challenge it with this question, “how is this benefiting a student?”.

The technologies and social environment are certainly there to support any institution and individual that sees the value and urgency to act now to refocus on students. Leaders that commit to putting the student’s interests over those of themselves and their institution will be in a strong position to influence the outcome; all others will be influenced by it.

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