Monday, March 26, 2018

The problems with higher education aren't what you think

Steven Mintz, who founded and led the Institute for Transformational Learning, proposed that the problems higher education faces aren't what we think. The Institute was created to increase broader access and support larger numbers of students through to completion of their degrees.

Instead of wasting time on issues such as cost, faculty engagement, political correctness, or administrative infrastructure, Mintz suggests that the most pressing problems are; high dropout rates and length of time to degree completion, disparities in funding, lack of focus on employment-related learning, and unresponsiveness to non-traditional students. In formulating potential responses to the latter, he says, "Even supposedly traditional undergraduates work while going to school, while many others must balance their studies with family responsibilities. At the same time, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities - which many students find the most valuable part of their college experience and which absorb significant amounts of time and energy - are not well integrated into their academic journey." The answer - take a student-centric focus that addresses the reality of students' lives rather than trying to force-fit them into our institutional structures and processes. In this student-centric approach, a focus on workforce competencies is essential.

Mintz suggests that the availability of resources isn't always the answer to higher education's challenges. In fact, having more resources can create more problems such as unrealistic expectations and debilitating competition. Those who wish to innovate in higher education must address real challenges, be able to pivot when necessary, must recognize that innovation is inherently political, and realize that change is an iterative process.

In a separate, but related, article, Tim Jones cited the 2014 Gallup-Purdue Index finding that "...the type of college a student attended 'hardly matters at all' in a graduate's workplace engagement and current well-being." The point - what are the most meaningful outcomes for students, their families, and our institutions? The likelihood is that the 'why' of higher education is much more important than struggling with costs, faculty engagement, political correctness, or administrative infrastructure.

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