The Changing World Of Higher Education

“A new global middle class desperately wants an elite American education: The existing model doesn’t work.” The Minerva Project has high aspirations, overthrow Harvard as the world’s most recognized educational brand. However, Matthew Kaminski’s final comment in his article this weekend discussing the future of college education was probably the most profound. “Whether or not Mr. Nelson [referring to Ben Nelson founder of the Minerva Project] and Minerva shake up American higher education, someone will.”

The above paragraph reflects a series of thoughts on the current condition of higher education in the United States. Other descriptors would be expensive, unable to produce long-term employment, ineffective. According to some our educational system is not producing people that can think critically, communicate, or make-decisions.  Interesting criticisms which in my opinion are accurate.

The cost of American education has skyrocketed. Student debt is in the Billions, or even Trillions, depending on who you read. Therefore, the system is ripe for a paradigm change. Minerva is another new model, such as MOOCs, that is attempting to undermine the current university paradigm.

Minerva is touted to be an “e-lite” school which opens in 2015. Ben Nelson “calls Minerva a reimagined university.” It appears to be a cohort system of 150 students who will live together in San Francisco for the first year, and then move from city to city around the world. “Residences and high-tech classrooms will be set up in the likes of Sao Paulo, London, or Singapore.”

Nelson has also thrown out introductory classes, which can be taken as a MOOC, and has created a curriculum that he says will teach the students how to think. All of Nelson’s ideas seem very interesting, and I don’t want to say they will never work, but his school does not start for another three years and he has no students, and will require about 10,000 students to break even. That is a lot of cohorts of 150 students traveling the globe.

I don’t know if this particular model will work, and I don’t know the future of MOOCs, but one thing I do know, necessity is the mother of invention. The cost of higher education has grown to the point that it is no longer the great equalizer, but another economic gap creator. Only those that can afford the high levels of debt associated with a college education will be able to get a degree.

I also agree with Kaminski when he identifies accreditation as a barrier to entry of the educational market. “A cartel sanctioned by Congress places a high barrier to entry for newcomers, stifling educational innovation.” However, I think the current situation is to the point of creative destruction.

Anyone in higher education today needs to recognize its paradigmic foundation is crumbling. Innovation is crying out for release, and it will happen. The first crack involved cohort style programs based on adult learning theory, then online classes created another crack, MOOCs a third crack, and on it will go.

Innovation will come from the smaller colleges and universities because they need to be innovative to survive. My prediction is that Nelson’s model will fail. However, there are many others that won’t. So fellow professors, we need to pay attention to the macroenvironment and embrace the change, because if we don’t the change will happen to us not with us.

And that is my thought for the day!




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