What will Higher Education Look Like in the Future?

Community College Dean wrote a post, Thoughts on the Innovative University. The title is a pun in that it is both thoughts on the book of the same name, The Innovative University and on the question of what makes a university innovative.

First, a disclaimer, I have not read the book. I am not sure, based on what CCDean wrote, that I want to. However, there are some interesting aspects as well.

There is the defining difference in types of innovation, sustaining and disruptive.

Then there is the history of academia.

the history of Harvard, which the book argues (correctly) has been the pace car for traditional higher ed…
My favorite moment was the claim that Harvard invented summer vacations not for agrarian reasons, but because students had revolted one summer, and the faculty decided that hot weather made students cranky and likely to rebel.

I like that and I buy into it too. Since most folks going to Harvard weren’t the kids working on the farms, I can see why this makes more sense.

CCDean goes on to say that the contrast the book presents, BYUIdaho, is not really a disruptive innovation. In fact, it looks just like the Proprietary U that CCDean worked for in the 90s. That wasn’t a game changer, either.

However, he continues, the idea that we are looking at a sustaining innovation (even one that wasn’t innovated by the folks the authors of the books suggest) is interesting. What would it mean if that were a sustaining innovation? What would a disruptive innovation look like?

Then CCDean proposes his own idea of a disruptive innovation.

I expect that competitors will emerge to the bachelor’s degree itself.

As long as the bachelor’s degree requires a set amount of time, and a set amount of “general education,” it will fall prey to Baumol’s cost disease. It can’t not. (The only way I can see around that is something like the outcomes-based degree at Western Governors University; at least that offers the possibility of efficiency gains.) But there’s no law saying that a bachelor’s degree is the only possible model for post-secondary education.

For a long time, college and a BA or BS were not the norm. Apprenticeship in a trade was the norm. Perhaps, as Bill Rankin argues, we are moving back towards a norm like this.

It’s an interesting thing to think about, especially in an economic crisis that may be redefining our jobs or our work’s parameters.

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