09 July 2011

Are Colleges Really In Crisis?


That is what Professors Christensen and Horn say in this article. The image and the story comes from the July/August 2011 issue of Harvard Magazine. Some schools are rich enough to afford their own glossy monthly magazine, with fancy ads and apparently independent columnists just like the ones that larger cities have their names on.

Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn talk about the effects of 'disruptive innovation' on probably all colleges and universities but especially so on our 2nd tier and below colleges and universities. Because some of my grandchildren are soon starting high school it seemed reasonable to read this particular article rather than toss the whole thing which is what I usually do.

My own experience comes from attending a small private college on a nice scholarship from Sears in the late 50s and Harvard Medical School in the early 60s, partly scholarship (one year) and mostly loans from the school itself after that first year; then looking over and paying the bills for 4 children in the 80s and 90s at state schools in various states, fortunately managing to get help in the form of in-state tuition and some merit-based scholarship. In fact, it was cheaper to send two of them to New Mexico and Missouri because those states offered more of a discount on the tuition than Montana did. At the time it seemed a reasonable thing to do but I have gradually developed some doubts about the whole enterprise.

I noticed the tuition and other costs going up more rapidly than the so-called cost of living and even more than the rise in medical care (undergraduate tuition has risen at an average of 6.3% per year for three decades while medical costs have risen 4.9% per year). But Christensen and Horn say this business model is broke or breaking, such that alumni gifts, earnings from endowments, subsidies from state tax revenues for public schools and federal subsides for students are being exhausted. Even the well-endowed schools were devastated in 2008. Tuition at public schools, even for in-state students has been rising rapidly and cutbacks in enrollment have been tried. This at a time when the funding of public pension and healthcare costs for retirees and the soon to be retired is a major problem for all governments and the folks who work for them.

Then along comes the online competition—the 'disruptive innovation'—10% of students took at least one online course in 2003, and 30% in the fall of 2009. They go on with blather like 'easily embed actionable assessments that allow students to accelerate past concepts and skills,' which probably doesn't mean much or perhaps it may mean something to educators, but the authors are business school people. Christensen and Horn have written a book on this subject, along with Curtis W. Johnson: Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns.

I took some classes on a Semester at Sea trip a few years ago and listened carefully to both students and professors. Obviously, things have changed since the 50s and even the 80s and 90s. I have friends who teach in colleges and universities, both conventional and online. I have talked to some recent grads who owe a lot of money. My kids are thinking very carefully about their own education and that of their children. I think things are going to look at lot different in a few years. In any event check these guys out, at least at the article level. If the book contains the same jargon it might not be worth it. Maybe the title is enough.

2 comments:

William Wood Field said...

Here's my take on this topic:

http://rosariumphilosophorum.blogspot.com/2011/06/b4023-2-fields-law-and-education.html

http://rosariumphilosophorum.blogspot.com/2011/07/b4023-4-education-fields-law-2.html

http://rosariumphilosophorum.blogspot.com/2011/07/b4023-5-education-virtual-university.html

Ken & Carol said...

Thank you William for your suggestions. I read them over and I think we are on the same wavelength: worrying that our colleges and universities are in trouble.

It seems to me there are lots of symptoms, perhaps even a syndrome TBNL (to be named later). Some might call it Field's Syndrome. Not you of course but I could easily do it. I will reveal my ancient ways and suggest that perhaps some of Professor Parkinson's Laws might be useful in looking at this problem.

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