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Transforming the Higher Education Model to Better Serve Non-Traditional Students

Transforming the Higher Education Model to Better Serve Non-Traditional Students
The institutional higher education model is overburdened by bureaucracy, making postsecondary education expensive and cumbersome for adult students.
Universities and colleges do not educate; they facilitate a relationship that is formed when academics who do educate are united with students who seek the service. This academic/student relationship is the essence of higher education. Thus, to speak of access to higher education and its improvement is to refer to the ability of individuals to form this fundamental relationship, whether facilitated within or without the familiar institutional tradition.

In this tradition, accredited institutions are identified as principal actors charged with providing recognized education to students through the formal employ of academics and the facilitation of their service. By contrast, this convention prescribes a notion of improved access to higher education that forges a relationship between individuals (students and academics) and institutions (universities and colleges).

Under this model, individuals are subordinate and must apply to institutions for access, with acceptance limited by the dwindling resources available for everything from office and lecture space to communication and computation service. In this way, universities and colleges form a bottleneck in access to higher education.

As a consequence, in California alone, hundreds of thousands of students are now denied access while the largest college in the state, City College of San Francisco (CCSF), had its credit revoked. CCSF services some of the most vulnerable students in the system, including minority, adult and other non-traditional groups.

In total, some 2,600 faculty employees and 90,000 students of CCSF will be on the streets of San Francisco with no official means to facilitate their mutually beneficial education relationship independent of the college.

This institutional model offers inadequate access to higher education and cannot be sustained in affluent or developing regions of the world.

I suggest an alternative model that promises to significantly increase access and lower public costs, while not only retaining but improving the traditional face-to-face education relationship. I maintain that the professional model routinely used for medical, engineering, legal, accounting and other valued services can be tooled to better facilitate the academic/student relationship. Doing so would remove the institutional bottleneck, improving the access academics and students have to one another.

Briefly, professions have a private practice tradition of service, with professional societies to offer oversight through licensure, development, support and discipline. In concert with family physicians and attorneys that service individuals throughout their lives, a profession of academics could provide structure for a more intimate lifelong-learning relationship between teacher and student.

Independent of institutional employ, professional academics can proliferate in private practice, improving access by increasing the absolute number of academics available to students. More academics in circulation would encourage competition, innovation and specialization in practices that more finely tune service to individual needs.

I educate in the area of philosophy. I am confident that with revenue from tuition alone — that is, no public allocations for operations or capital expansion — I can operate a professional practice that offers my expertise to the public and manages to generate a respectable income. I am confident this is true of many other subjects in not only the humanities but also law, business and the STEM subjects. The result would be a 50 to 75-percent reduction in the total cost to provide such higher education, in comparison with universities and colleges currently burdened by administrative and capital costs.

Universities and colleges are not required. The wider community offers all the facilitation provided by these institutions, though chronic underutilization of campus resources such as classroom facilitates presents an opportunity for professional academics to rent or lease these institutional resources in the operation of their practice.

By contrast, to overcome institutional bottleneck, universities and colleges increase at least the quantity (if not the quality) of access through platforms such as the Massive Open Online Course. The result is greater access for students to courses offered by fewer and fewer academics in a virtual education relationship that does not meet the expectations or requirements of (CCSF and other) students.

Both the institutional and professional models are examples of social contracts, whereby the state relieves itself of some of the responsibility for oversight, finance and provision of services. The alternate model I am suggesting does not necessitate cancellation of the institutional social contract. In fact, the two can form symbiotic relationships, though in competition, the institutional model cannot effectively respond to the professional.

To learn more about this proposed model, please read “A New Tender for the Higher Education Social Contact.”

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