Alan Weiss’s Monday Morning Memo® – 11/6/2023
I’ve appeared as a guest lecturer in a dozen or more universities, including Harvard, MIT, BU, Rutgers, and so on. I have been an adjunct professor at the University of Rhode Island. This has occurred over 20 years, and I’ve reached a rather shocking conclusion.
While our primary and secondary school education is far from the best in the world, students flock here from all over the globe for our colleges and universities. Peter Drucker said once that if we counted this in our international trade numbers we’d have a positive balance of trade.
BUT: There is a “perfect storm” brewing for our higher educational system.
Universities today, public and private, have a tuition inflation rate far higher than the general economy. Over the past 20 years, tuition and fees have grown twice as fast as the consumer price index (CPI): 66%. Most recently, 89% of higher educational spending has gone to operational costs, which include salaries, research, and physical plant. A great deal of money is directed at trying to create facilities and research to lure star professors, who would, one hopes, lure more students at still higher tuition.
The obscene cost of tuition today, and its current growth rates simply can’t be sustained, and is no longer commensurable with the educational outcomes. Moreover, organizations are seeking talent and competencies, and not necessarily diplomas. (Some airlines have waived the requirement for pilots to have college degrees. I’d certainly prefer they can land in a storm rather than be able to discuss Kant’s Categorical Imperative.) Nor can they keep expanding physical plant to accommodate still more students being housed, garaged, fed, entertained, and clothed (oh, yeah, and educated). There is also the clear radicalization of faculties which have become part of political theologies more than purveyors of scholarship.
And now we have remote learning, a disaster at high school level but very effective at collegiate level.
Thus, the perfect storm: An alternative to the traditional campus, a resistance to higher tuition, the expense of expanding physical plant, and the radicalization of the faculties which exert normative pressure when students are physically present. Some students don’t feel safe on college campuses.
Strategically, higher education is going to change. Whether that is created or enforced is still a question.
But what is clear is that the country is looking for—and needs—high competence and not merely credentials.
An institution of higher education is a partnership among students and alumni, faculty and administrators, donors and trustees, neighborhoods and more, to build a community – and a culture. —Ben Sasse
By making college unaffordable and student loans unbearable, we risk deterring our best and brightest from pursuing higher education and securing a good-paying job. —Mark Pocan
Education in general, and higher education in particular, is on the brink of a huge disruption. Two big questions, which were once so well-settled that we ceased asking them, are now up for grabs. What should young people be learning? And what sorts of credentials indicate they’re ready for the workforce? —Daniel H. Pink
We can do better in higher education. And it is more than just technology. It’s also an attitude on the part of faculty. We need to think through how we can produce a better quality product at less cost. —Roy Romer