Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Meaning of the Market Mantra and the Road Less Traveled, Part 2

Drew Koch
Vice President for New Strategy, Development, and Policy Initiatives

Thorstein Veblen pointed to a market-based orientation in American higher education shortly after the turn of the last century – and by this, I mean the nineteenth-to-twentieth century – in his 1918 classic The Higher Learning in America: a Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities by Business Men. He went so far as to claim that American postsecondary institutions were not institutions of higher learning in the European sense; they were institutions of higher professional training. 

This business connection existed well before Veblen wrote his work. In fact, it dates back to the very founding of Harvard, when the decision was made by that institution’s founders to create a corporate board – a structure very different from the boards that governed the then fledgling College’s European counterparts.   

But despite this long history of corporate connection and ethos in higher education in the United States, it strikes me that there is a difference between what occurred in the near 350 years since the founding of Harvard to the late 1970s, and what has occurred in the last three decades of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first.  Governing boards and institutional policy makers once combined the requirements of “piety” (or mission) with corporate interest/concerns. It strikes me that now, in the current era, corporate concerns have been too heavily substituted for mission. Profit and prestige are piety. There is no longer an effort to achieve balance. 

Balance is the key word here.  If what I am asserting is correct – and if what Schultz and Lucido have found in their report is accurate – then in the latter 20th and early 21st centuries, public policy efforts associated with higher education (and the institutional initiatives that have risen as a result) are largely out of balance.  They assume that the market is perfect – that meeting the needs of the market is a maxim.  It is my belief that efforts to make higher education an individual as opposed to a public benefit – a legacy of the Reagan era – miss a key point. Individual skills are used and rewards garnered in a public sphere. And it is this public mission that is being ignored or relegated to the side.

Replicating what Schultz and Lucido did at the end of their report for the enrollment management profession, I am using the last elements of this post to list some questions for readers to consider if they have comparable thoughts and views about the direction of higher education’s mission in the contemporary United States.  To this end, I encourage readers to consider the following.

When are market needs and institutional mission one-in the same, and when are they at odds with each other?

Does it matter if institutional missions and values (on one hand) and market needs (on the other) are out of balance?

What does it mean to balance market and mission needs at your institution at this time in your institutional and our national history?

If better balance is needed, how is it achieved?  What is the plan?  Who needs to be involved at your institution and beyond? 

In my view, it is a productive use of time for members of the higher education communities and the broader constituencies they serve – including, but not limited to, the business community – to ask themselves and find answers to these and comparable questions.  In today’s climate, it may seem like a road less traveled. But it could very well make all the difference . . . .

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Turning the Ship Around: The Difficulty of Education Reform (Part 1 of a series)

Betsy O. Barefoot,
Vice President and Senior Scholar

For the past 20 odd years, I have worked in settings where the focus has been on improving student success in the first year of college.  Both the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education—my former and current employers—work with colleges and universities around the world to address the “first-year problem,” which is defined differently by different people.  But a generally agreed-upon component of the first-year problem is a lack of readiness for “college work”—at least what most of us recognize as college work.

All this focus on college readiness takes me back to my own wonderful high school education in the 60s and why today a high school diploma doesn’t seem to certify much at all in the way of preparation for college.  Okay, I know I’m generalizing.  There are excellent high schools and lots of special programs for bright students, but I find myself longing for “the good old days” of my high school experience.  What was so good about it?

The best aspect of my high school experience was the teaching – hands down.  My best teachers were women, unmarried women, who had devoted their lives to their students:  Ms. Ipock taught geometry and algebra, but also poetry.  I remember reciting Rudyard Kipling’s “If” in math class and doing artwork on the classroom windows.  Ms. Simpson taught English and Latin with uncommon enthusiasm.  I remember the class in which we were reading Robert Frost’s “Snow.” Ms. Simpson’s face lit up; she ran to window announcing that it was snowing, but we all laughed because it was only ash floating down from the chimney; Ms. Jones was an amazing biology teacher whose mantra in response to comments of “I can’t, or I don’t understand” was “do the best you can with what you have.”  Ms. Grant, who taught both my sister (who is 14 years older than I) and me, is still the source of nightmares about lack of preparation for the weekly test.   But I didn’t learn to write in college, I learned to write from Ms. Grant.

Is it possible to recruit such teachers today when the best college graduates have so many options that come with better pay and infinitely more status?  I’m certainly not advocating a return to a world where bright, career-oriented women could only do two things – teach and nurse.  But as I watch our state of North Carolina and others reduce available funding for public education, I despair.  What hope do we have of transforming young lives when the best and brightest among us cannot be persuaded that teaching is a viable career path?  

Monday, March 21, 2011

Just Look Around

John N. Gardner

One of the best jobs in the world has to be just talking with students. For those of us so fortunate as to be working on college and university campuses, there are so many opportunities to talk with students. And there are so many things we could be talking to them about!

Are you talking to them about the perfect storm of natural and human made disasters that have converged in Japan? We could not find a more compelling example of the potential downside of technology. If this doesn’t shake your faith in technology, what will it take?

Are you asking the students why they think the response so far of Americans to charities to aid the Japanese is so much lower than American giving responses to the earthquake victims in Hawaii just over a year ago?

Are you asking your students what they think of the spectacles in the three legislatures of Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana where one political party is attempting to take away hard won rights of organized labor which have been evolving for over century in our country? Why should our students care about the affected workers rights in these three states?

Are you asking the students to reflect on the powerful illustrations of global interdependence we have seen since the earthquake in Japan disrupted the global supply chain?

Are you asking the students what they are thinking about the proposed programmatic cuts being focused upon my our Congressional representatives? What stake do our college students have in the programs being targeted for cuts, such as Head Start, Planned Parenthood and National Public Radio?

One of the most important things I learned in college was that the questions are often more important than the answers.

If the students aren’t talking to and with you, who are they talking to?

And who do you want them to be talking to?

If they are not talking with you, there is a great chance they are going to finish college untouched by our process. What a waste that would be.