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No-frills education

This commentary was authored by Lucie Lapovsky, Principal, Lapovsky Consulting, former President of Mercy College in New York, and a board member of the White House Project.

Q: How would you assess the leadership of college presidents in embracing new technology and innovative teaching techniques aimed at reducing costs, improving quality and reengineering higher education? What leadership steps would you recommend for them?

Much of higher education has been very slow to embrace new business models and new technologies. Some university leaders have buried their heads in the sand along with their faculty and are assuming that this recession will pass and things will return to the way they were before.

I do not think that will happen and beyond that, I think it is imperative that we develop new, more effective and efficient ways of delivering college degrees. We need to produce more college graduates if we are to maintain our global leadership and if we are to have the workforce we need for the future. Our production of college graduates relative to our population has not increased in more than 10 years while our economy has grown more sophisticated; we need to improve on these results. Further, as the demographics of our country change, the imperative to produce college degrees at lower cost for many students is an imperative.

Leaders must look at their core mission and values and assess how to prioritize their use of resources. There needs to be a very strategic look at the curriculum, which has grown beyond all reason at many institutions as seen by the number of majors and the number of courses required for graduation to name just two metrics.

The method of delivery of the curriculum needs to be examined in terms of the effective use of technology in the classroom as well as the mix of full and part time faculty and the definition of faculty roles. Further, we need to look at all the co-curricular activities and other accoutrements we provide along with teaching and learning and assess their relevance to the core mission versus the cost of providing them as we work to expand access to higher education.

We are fortunate to have a system of higher education which offers a great deal of diversity. We are seeing a new model provided by the regionally accredited for profit colleges and universities as they gain in students and influence. This model is providing an alternative, no-frills, convenient approach to the college experience which is especially attractive to many older students.

We are seeing some "traditional" colleges and universities experimenting with no-frills models and offering then at lower price, with three-year bachelor's degrees, with combining some of high school with the first two years of college and with the extensive use of technology to aid in learning as well as with models of all on-line programs.

Many of these experiments are showing potential in leading us to more cost effective models with increased student success. We must embrace this experimentation and motivate more of it if we are to meet the manpower needs of the future and if we are to provide access to a higher education to all who need it in this country.


By Marie Wilson

 |  May 25, 2010; 7:20 AM ET
Category:  Education leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Liberal arts did teach me to write a lot of papers: I can pay attention to spelling and often to grammar when I write e-mail. If only everyone could. Sociology provided some multicultural perspective and an escape from an American-centered perspective of life. I even brushed up on high-school Spanish while in college.

I don't suppose liberal arts was a total waste in the office place, after all. It just got treated like a waste when I went looking for a job.

Posted by: cmarshdtihqcom | May 27, 2010 11:54 PM
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Those 18-20 are also adults. It's important that there be more university graduates to expand the economy of the United States so a no frills university experience helps with that.

Posted by: LibertyForAll | May 27, 2010 10:18 PM
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I got my BS in 33 calendar months for economic reasons--a need to take advantage of in-state tuition before I lost it. Seemed to work out OK. For students much better than I, the university had an accelerated undergraduate-medical school program.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | May 27, 2010 10:16 PM
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The Liberal Arts are incredibly UNDERvalued in US society. The Liberal Arts are where you learn to read between the lines, to analyze, to interpret, to express yourself in writing and speech. The Liberal Arts is where you learn about how people from other cultures and other perspectives understand the world and their place in it. The Liberal Arts is where you learn how to speak to other people in their own language instead of expecting everyone across the world to speak your language. The Liberal Arts is where you learn to grapple with the most important questions in life -- questions that are full of ambiguity and contradiction, and questions that will never be answered, even though they are the most fundamental questions to individuals seeking meaning and societies struggling to balance the between rights and responsibilities of individuals and the rights and responsibilities of societies.
The so-called business model proposed by people like the so-called leaders in this column has very little place for knowledge that can't be quantified. They only see college as instrumental for getting that first job.
Would you build a business on an educational model? Then why would you build an education system on a business model? They do not have the same goals. They do not have the same reason for existing.
Choose an educational model that focuses on the type of learning that sustains people and you have a model that benefits society.

Look at what the business has done for us recently: shipping the industrial sector overseas, making people work harder and longer hours for dwindling salaries, uninsuring employees, reneging on promised pensions, skirting rules and regulations, exploiting loopholes with disastrous consequences for societies everywhere (witness the Wall Street self-induced crisis felt the world over) and for the earth itself (oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico) - and refusal to admit any responsibility.

Why oh why do people in this country continue to worship corporatism? Why oh why do people continue to spout unquestioning praise of privatization of public goods and services?

Why oh why do we continue to give people like the ones who wrote this column pats on the back?

Posted by: lxp19 | May 27, 2010 8:18 PM
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I do believe Howard Gardner discussed 9 types of intelligence

http://skyview.vansd.org/lschmidt/Projects/The%20Nine%20Types%20of%20Intelligence.htm

For example I have logical-mathematical intelligence, linguistic intelligence, and possibly spatial intelligence as well.

Posted by: cmarshdtihqcom | May 27, 2010 7:44 PM
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A college degree is a personal achievement that may or may not translate into a job, unless other skills are also pursued. We need to respect all kinds of learning: academic, on-the-job, mechanical skills, writing skills, nurturing skills, and many more which could be added to the list. I have a B.A. and M.A. and certification in several things. Learning is ongoing in life and work, so let's keep it up-to-date, diverse and meaningful.

Posted by: babsygee2 | May 27, 2010 5:37 PM
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College, Inc. suggested that traditional college cherry picks the most talented and most motivated directly from high school, leaving lots of others in the cold for the for-profit educational model to exploit financially.

I remember one sociology classmate who did the four year course in 3.5 years. She was a legend.

If colleges wanted to help us returning students out what they really could do is waive general studies and electives requirements outright for returning college graduates. If they took the same courses at the same place or a college like it, don't make them re-invent the wheel and take American literature all over again. Likewise, every other class they ever took easily counts towards their elective requirements.

That leaves only the requirements immediately relevant to one's new major and minor.

I also don't understand the language that says or implies that a course can apply to only one degree. Why can't the same course apply to more than one degree or don't I understand something?

Posted by: cmarshdtihqcom | May 27, 2010 3:04 PM
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GradStudent2007, proceed to http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/collegeinc/view/?utm_campaign=homepage&utm_medium=proglist&utm_source=proglist and you can watch the Frontline episode College Inc. about for profit alternatives to college. I think it is very informative.

I might be going for for-profit ed myself: certification for something like software quality assurance soon, possibly from New Horizons Computer Learning Center. It could cost $3,000. I might have to pay for it myself but I could, and it would probably save my employment. Web development seems to have gone belly up and I am assisting the accounting department with scanning invoices (this is torture to someone with a curious mind, although to a detail oriented person, I am gifted at making sure invoice numbers match and all pages get accounted for). But I could also become a detail oriented certified tester of our Web sites, that is something that seems desirable, and something we want to create without hiring anyone new.

Posted by: cmarshdtihqcom | May 27, 2010 2:46 PM
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I am pleased to see the for-profit sector provide alternative paths for non-traditional students to achieve their educational goals. I am concerned however by the exorbitant tuition costs imposed on arguably marginal students for degree programs that may or may not provide increased employment opportunities. I have additional concerns that some of these institutions are funding themselves via crippling student loan debts. I am amazed at the tuition charged by marginally recognized "traditional" institutions -- this holds for the profit driven sector as well.

Posted by: gradstudent2007 | May 27, 2010 1:35 PM
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Dear Killerm,
My daughter teaches environmental science which makes her doubly useless by your standards. Her area of research is watersheds, especially water chemistry. Think about that next time you turn on your faucet.
On a different note, I was somewhat surprised to see the confusion between job-ready and college graduate in the original piece. She seems to wish to both preserve the college or university as a place to receive job training and to reduce the time spent outside the job-related field. I believe many such programs already exist; just not in traditional 4-year schools.

Posted by: abbyandmollycats | May 27, 2010 12:43 PM
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Edwin2, it seems so easy to call a higher education facility a diploma mill

1. It may not be for profit but it does have staff and expenses
2. Staff and expenses are paid in large measure by tuition (which may be borrowed from student loans) (there are also donations)
3. Colleges and universities are cherry picking the best applicants who are already the most intelligent and motivated. It should not be as hard teaching them as it should be teaching a bunch of kids in a city high school.
4. The school (and maybe a board of regents, maybe based on schools though) gets to define the curriculum and content of the degree/credential. Why should the curriculum include history, literature, music, art? My college (Shepherd University, 1988) did not teach philosophy (a history professor included some). Why should my college have two history requirements? Does it matter? To the student? At all?
5. The school probably has a career office but it is not the career office's problem for the student to get a job- it is the student's problem. And it is the student's problem to repay the student loans. I had Perkins Loans repayable to the school, but with Direct Loans I wonder if Perkins Loans are still around. The school has limited financial liability, and the student and his or her parents (if applicable) has/have full financial liability. It is easy for the school to give a credential to a successful graduate, but it is not so easy to convince some neutral third party, and employer, that the credential means anything.

Of course the school would dispute it. It is trying to teach humanities and perhaps some professional program like education, social work, nursing, etc. The school does set limits and flunk people. I nearly flunked because of emotional instability, fortunate like Maverick in Top Gun to graduate with a decent cum laude (one year of miserable grades and three years of outstanding).

Schools do teach useful skills, especially at the highest levels. I learned how to assemble journal research during the complete research life cycle in grad school, grasping the whole big picture. I just couldn't convince any employers, neutral third parties, that I had vision.

Perhaps the closest thing to diploma mills I actually saw was the computer training (continuing education units) I have had during my nearly 11 years with the company where attendance equals a credential.

Chris Marsh

Posted by: cmarshdtihqcom | May 27, 2010 10:50 AM
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A 3-year degree is not a BA. If you start awarding degrees by truncating the most sophisticated, terminal courses, you are producing undereducated graduates.

Would you go to a doctor whose medical school cut out her last year?

Posted by: AxelDC | May 27, 2010 10:45 AM
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College graduates in what ? Do we REALLY need more 'environmental science', Veterinarians, or 'English literature' graduates ???? Let's face it, we have an overabundance of college graduates in areas that are of marginal benefit to society as a whole. In some cases the excess number of graduates in a field can lead to detrimental effects as in the case of the surplus of 'environmental science' graduates, who often worm their way into bureaucratic positions where they promulgate needless regulation that burden society as a whole.

What we really need are our colleges producing graduates that can solve our problems with basic energy, transportation, medicine and housing

Posted by: killerm | May 27, 2010 9:27 AM
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Higher Education is one of the three H's (the others being Health care and Housing) that are bankrupting Americans. All three suffer from having free markets on the demand side but artificial scarcity enforced by providers on the supply. Colleges themselves, through the accredidation process, severely limit the ability to grant degrees even though our society offers myriad ways to teach.

Health care is similarly limited by the suppliers preventing new business models. If it was run like any other scientifically advancing field, we'd all be taking inexpensive microfluid tests that provide a diagnosis better than any doctor's. Housing is limited by local building ordinances that the homeowners themselves use to keep their property values up.

All three represent the failure to accept competition via capitalism, while benefiting from being able to sell in free markets. And American consumers are the losers.

Posted by: WmarkW | May 27, 2010 9:05 AM
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The focus of the author highlights the problem with higher US education, in my opinion. Twice the author referred to college degrees as a 'good', with comments about delivering college degrees and producing college degrees.

The college degree is supposed to represent a body of knowledge and set of skills. If college leadership ignores the imparting of knowledge to students and their acquiring a set of relevant skills, and instead focuses on producing college degrees, then those colleges are, by definition, diploma mills. A college degree without the knowledge and skills to support it, is nothing.

Posted by: Edwin2 | May 27, 2010 8:31 AM
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I'm with "eclect" (#1) --- I have no idea what this lady is talking about most of the time in this jargon filled piece of writing. I find that most faculty (I am one too) have few problems with thinking about how we might better serve students, but balk at having this kind of half-baked business-speak foisted on us. The assumption by college presidents (who increasingly have very little to do with faculty or students and who spend their time hobnobbing with business leaders) is that anything that "Business" does must point in the right direction for colleges and universities as well. In my own opinion, there is much that could be transferred but it has to be carefully thought through and adapted to the context. Many college presidents haven't taught a student in years and really don't have a clue about the challenges faculty face in actually educating students. The "one size fits all" answer seems to be a greater reliance on technology but that gets thrown out as a self-evident solution to all problems, when, in reality, it is very costly [faculty costs might go down but take a look at the growing and expensive infrastructures at most colleges] and, like most pedagogical tools, very effective for some students and not at all useful for others. Not one technological development (including online teaching -- I myself often teach online) has proved to be cheaper if all the costs are added in.

Posted by: lab-lady | May 27, 2010 7:18 AM
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This article exemplifies a key problem with your higher education system--Americans seem to have lost the ability to communicate simply with each other, except in the form of vulgar and ill-informed polemic. I defy anyone to deduce from that wad of verbiage any clear statement of the problems or any actual proposal for solutions.

Posted by: eclect | May 27, 2010 6:54 AM
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Although I hasten to add, having an explicit theoretical knowledge of sociology is helpful, I think, to real-time process best reactions in a given social situation. It is written knowledge on human interaction when non-verbal knowledge is a problem. It is pearls of wisdom.

Posted by: cmarshdtihqcom | May 25, 2010 12:46 PM
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I don't mind General Studies with its smattering of liberal arts so much, but aren't we overselling liberal arts nowadays? I have both a Master's in sociology (applied research emphasis) and a community college certificate in computer programming. I got 20 cents working for the university for every dollar I borrowed in Federal student loans. I don't know what I would have paid for community college because it was a state-funded vocational rehabilitation program in Maryland (for Asperger syndrome), but it has easily paid for itself in the last 11 years where I work.
It is the difference between Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm.

Christopher Marsh, MA
Alexandria VA

Marshall University, 1996
Shepherd University, 1992

Catonsville Community College, 1999

Posted by: cmarshdtihqcom | May 25, 2010 12:42 PM
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