Monday, July 20, 2009

Is Higher Education the Next Bubble to Burst? Yes and No (2)

Bubbles burst when people will not or cannot continue to pay the irrationally, artificially overvalued price for prized assets. For example, when a real estate bubble bursts, buyers recalibrate their assessments of value and the value of residential and commercial real estate falls until a new market equilibrium is reached. In a field like education, readjustment will occur when new options appear that present different price points or value propositions that appeal to underserved or dissatisfied consumers. Over time, these new options both provide fresh choices and spur modifications in existing practices.

What are some of the options that will recalibrate value propositions and price points in higher education?

Reduced Tuition Through Technology-Enabled Reinvention. Most institutions’ on-line offerings are actually more expensive than traditional offerings. But Lamar University has shaken up the marketplace in Texas for online graduate learning by collaborating with Higher Ed Holdings to offer an online masters program at a dramatically cheaper price point. The secret: using technology to change patterns of interaction and turning faculty into mentors and managers of the online learning space rather than content experts. Other disruptive, less-expensive offerings of various kinds are gestating in business development from Baltimore to Bangalore to Beijing. More about this in future blog “Disruptive Innovations in Higher Education.)

• Reduced Total/Net Cost of Learning/Three-Year Baccalaureate Degrees/One-year Associate Degrees. Tuitions at state universities are likely to continue to grow at rates greater than the CPI – unless states control it. Even so, the best way to address affordability is through reducing the total/net cost of degrees. Private institutions like Hartwick University have announced three-year options by compressing the university experience and making it year round. Stephen Joel Trachtenberg has suggested private universities consider full year-round operations. But the most promising initiatives are bridging and pathways programs between K-12, community colleges and four-year institutions. For example, the nursing pathways program involving Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University assures that if students get on the prescribed pathway in ninth grade take prescribed courses successfully, they will achieve a baccalaureate in nursing within three years after graduation from high school (many such students currently require four to six years to achieve that end). There are numerous variations on such programs across the country.

Virtually every state has serious K-16 reinvention programs underway. The challenge is not just to push college-level work in high school, but to engage all high school students in more serious, immersive learning and competence building experiences. And to think of careers earlier. This acceleration and immersion should include vocational offerings and tracks. The real challenge is to move these programs from protoypes and experiments into full-blown reinvention of the high school experience, at scale. This will be discussed in an upcoming blog “The Underworked American Student.” Stay tuned.

• Deconstruction of Degrees into Certificates and Competences. For many entry-level workers, taking even two years to complete an associate degree before achieving employment is too long. The ideal solution is for learners to be exposed in high school to immersive learning and vocational/technical learning experiences (which may be achieved on community college campuses since we’re squeezed most voc tech out of high school) that prepare them for entry-level jobs, which they can take immediately after graduation. Then they complete other certificates and/or associate degrees while employed, a variation on the traditional apprenticeship model.

A corollary to this principle is to position entry-level job experiences to be the gateway to genuine career tracks. For example, substantial sums of stimulus money are being invested in weatherization and weatherization training, yet many of these workers will find their weatherization jobs to be dead ends. Extensive efforts are underway across the country to create green careers tracks, supported by online learning resources, that will enable entry-level workers to shape green careers, over time, and rise from installers to crew chiefs to auditors to managers and into technical elements of HVAC, solar, wind, and other renewables. These will require, different, more flexible approaches to community colege offerings. More to come about this in a future blog on “Deconstructing Green Career Tracks.”

• Community of Practice-Based Approaches to Competence. The traditional associates/bachelors/masters/doctorate degree progression is appropriate for individuals seeking traditional faculty careers. But the requirement of marketplace demands different learning and career paths. Suppose we used the tools of Web 2.0 (social networking, collaboration, knowledge repositories, and analytics) to create communities of practice into which student entered as undergraduates then continued through their careers? More about this alternative in the upcoming blog, “Perpetual Career Development Through Competence 2.0”

• Reduce Waste Through Improving Student Success.
Improving graduation rates in high school and college is critical to reducing the total cost of leaning for the nation. The cost of our current culture of failure is huge and will be discussed in a forthcoming blog, “Destroying the Culture of Failure

Where does analytics come into this formulation? It is the element that enables us to measure performance and costs. Technology also the mechanism for deconstructing and reinventing processes and practices, then for measuring the impacts of processes on outcomes. Technology also enables citizens to engage in learning anytime, anyplace, anyhow, fusing work, learning, and other life experiences.

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