Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Future of Higher Education: A Focus on Mission

A Commitment to Mission:  The Future of Higher Education
            There has been a lot of talk lately about the future of higher education.   Dan Butin, writing in Inside Higher Education, suggests that part of the problem is that everyone seems to be focused on the impact of technology and, thus, wants to organize around “the next big thing.”  However, he notes, “Higher education is changing dramatically, from the “new student majority” of demographic shifts to the changing nature of faculty work and contingent faculty to the disinvestment of public higher education and the debtification of an entire generation of low- and middle-income students. But these are not problems that have been caused by or will be solved by technology. These changes have been thirty-plus years in the making.”  He argues that we need to have a clear view that technology is about transmitting information, leaving it to the university to help students learn to transform information into knowledge.  “This,” he writes,  “would require a fundamental rethinking of what faculty do, of what students learn and how they document such learning, and what goals we want them to accomplish through such learning.”
            Earlier this year, in The Chronicle Terry Eagleton described “the slow death of the university as a center of humane critique,” which he saw as being largely rooted in the university’s capitulation “to the hard-faced priorities of global capitalism.”  One symptom is the death of traditional academic governance, where the faculty determine the curriculum and academic policies. With the creation of academic administration as a career, he notes,  “professors are transformed into managers, so students are converted into consumers.”  Addressing the longstanding tension between the University as a “public good” versus a “private good,” Eagleton writes:
Education should indeed be responsive to the needs of society. But this is not the same as regarding yourself as a service station for neocapitalism. In fact, you would tackle society’s needs a great deal more effectively were you to challenge this whole alienated model of learning. Medieval universities served the wider society superbly well, but they did so by producing pastors, lawyers, theologians, and administrative officials who helped to sustain church and state, not by frowning upon any form of intellectual activity that might fail to turn a quick buck.
            Noam Chomsky sounded a similar note in 2014 
when he described the emergence of a business model within higher education that created layers of professional, career administrators while making faculty more vulnerable by increasing the use of adjuncts and, at the same time, keeping the student body burdened by debit and, thus, less likely to repeat the student activism of the 1960s.
            Chomsky describes two basic models of higher education that have been discussed since the Enlightenment.  One is what he calls the “empty vessel” approach of knowledge transfer, what we might today call “teaching to the test.”  The other, which, Chomsky notes, was the preferred model over the past three centuries . . .
. . . was described as laying out a string along which the student progresses in his or her own way under his or her own initiative, maybe moving the string, maybe deciding to go somewhere else, maybe raising questions. Laying out the string means imposing some degree of structure. So an educational program, whatever it may be, a course on physics or something, isn’t going to be just anything goes; it has a certain structure. But the goal of it is for the student to acquire the capacity to inquire, to create, to innovate, to challenge—that’s education. 
            Higher education has suffered over the past two decades due in part to the disruptive change that technology and globalization has inspired around the world.  Certainly, one reason is that American public colleges and universities—their mission and their products and services—are a product of the Industrial Revolution; it is only natural that we should refresh the vision of higher education to meet the needs of this new social and economic context in which education operates and, at the same time, protect it from dangers in this new environment that threaten the fundamental purposes of higher education.
            Public higher education emerged as a response to a complex societal need in the 19th century:  to facilitate the massive immigration and urbanization that accompanied the Industrial Revolution, and to provide the new skills that society needed to succeed in the new environment.  Among the results:
·      A national network of teacher colleges
·      New undergraduate and graduate programs in professions like engineering, science, and business
·      New disciplines—sociology and social psychology among them—that produced new knowledge and professionals to address social issues arising from urbanization and the new community dynamics brought about by immigration and industrialization.
·      A commitment to social engagement, reflected most obviously in the Agricultural Extension movement in every state but also including “general extension”—also called continuing education, outreach, and engagement—that addressed ongoing educational needs of communities and the professions.
·      Distance education—originally in the form of correspondence study—designed to make rural life more sustainable and to help improve agricultural production to  support urbanization.
·      A broad commitment to practical, applied research across all disciplines.
·      New degree programs—ranging from associate degrees to professional master and doctoral degrees.
            The questions today are: (1) What new societal needs are arising from the Information Revolution?  And (2) What must higher education do to address these new needs?  Some thoughts follow:
New Social Needs
            The Information Revolution is making several significant changes to society, which should drive planning for colleges and universities.   Three issues stand out as being at the same scale as those that defined the university in the industrial period:
1.            Technology has changed the nature of “community” itself.  In the agricultural and industrial ages, “community” a shared physical proximity was basic to the definition of a community.   Community was the shared inter-relationships of people who share a physical space.  Today, however, technology has reduced—and in some casers eliminated—physical co-location as a requirement of community.  We maintain work and social relationships with colleagues who live far away.  We work from home offices.  We purchase essentials online.  We are just beginning to comprehend how this new social structure—a combination of physical and virtual communities—affects the individual’s role as a member of political, social, professional, and spiritual communities.  The supply chain for many products is now international.  Even the help desks that we call when a product doesn’t work may be in India or elsewhere.  In the industrial era, immigration drove the economy, and this drove educational change.  In the information era, people need not necessarily move to the United States in order to participate in what is now a global manufacturing economy.  The need for American workers and professionals in the new economy is to be able to work effectively with colleagues from multiple cultures who remain in their own culture. The implications cut across the three-part mission of higher education.
2.            Our citizens are living longer lives.  We need to train citizens for their “third act”—to make constructive contributions to their communities, both local and global.  Higher education must not focus solely or even primarily on high school graduates, but must be there to help them through all three stages:  first professions, career changes, and the often voluntary contributions that retired adults can make to their communities.  At each stage, we also need to ensure that education is not just vocational training, but helps students at all three stages find satisfaction in individual and community roles.
3.            We are at the threshold of major climate change in our world.  The coming decades will see dramatic impact on coastal communities and on worldwide agriculture.  Just as our land grant universities helped to support industrial urbanization and immigration by focusing on agricultural production in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, we now need to conduct research and prepare society for the implications of climate change.  Those implications include massive migrations within and between nations as populations move away from coastal flooding; significant changes in agricultural productivity that could lead to large-scale food shortages; and the need to find new sources of energy.  In the process, climate change will put stress on national and international social and political institutions and processes and will require new social service professionals.    Higher education’s response to climate change will require new emphases in research, the development of new curricula to prepare professionals and the population as a whole to deal with migration and other issues, and new partnerships between institutions to share faculty, and to conduct collaborative research across political, social and climate frontiers.  Increasingly, international institutional partnerships will be needed to help institutions address issues that affect their local communities.
            Ultimately, however, the future of higher education rests in accepting the fact that higher education institutions are not corporations.  Colleges and universities are not companies.  They are complex social organizations that have developed to meet the needs of the societies in which they operate.  They depend on a commitment to ideals, like shared governance, to ensure that the delicate balance between individual faculty expertise and organizational commitments is maintained so that the institution can serve society.   Universities cannot allow themselves to become simply the training arm and private laboratory of commercial interests.  Their commitment must be to the broader society.
            Only this commitment—supported by the effective use of technology to engage communities and facilitate collaboration across institutions—will allow higher education to translate goals that both Eagleton and Chomsky describe into practice in the Information Society.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Lesson from John Steinbeck

In this political year, immigration has become a global concern.  The combination of civil war and ideological revolt in the Middle East has created a massive migration of families from Syria and elsewhere to Europe and, to a lesser degree, North America.  Meanwhile, in the U.S. presidential campaigns—which have been underway well before the first primary elections next year—candidates on both sides, but especially conservatives, have made illegal immigration a major campaign issue.   One, Donald Trump, has promised to build a wall between the United States and Mexico and to round up and deport some 12 million immigrants.  In a Republican “debate” on November 10, he cited Dwight Eisenhower’s deportation of a million immigrants in the 1950s.  The next morning’s Washington Post  noted that the number may have been closer to 250,000 and that Trump failed to note that many were left to die in the Mexican deserts. 
            In his 1966 book, America and Americans*, John Steinbeck noted that immigration has been an issue for the country since its earliest days.  He noted that the first European immigrants “worked for it, fought for it, and died for it.  They stole and cheated and double-crossed for it.”   In the process, “every single man in our emerging country was out for himself against all others—for his safety, his profit, his future.”  This became part of our culture, “yet in one or two, certainly not more than three generations, each ethnic group has clicked into place in the union without losing the pluribus.”
            “From the first,” he wrote, “we have treated our minorities abominably, the way the old boys do the new kids in school.  All that was required to release this mechanism of oppression and sadism was that the newcomers be meek, poor, weak in numbers, and unprotected.”  He adds that this may be one reason why ethnic minorities blended into the American mainstream culture so quickly.
            However, Steinbeck also notes that, as new ethnic groups settled in, something happened:  “Despite the anger, the contempt, the jealousy, the self-imposed ghettos and segregation, something was loose in this land called America.  Its people were Americans.  The new generations wanted to be Americans more than they wanted to be Poles or Germans or Hungarians or Italians or British.  They wanted this and they did it.  America was not planned; it became.”
            Steinbeck called this chapter E Pluribus Unum—out of many, one.  He noted that, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds, most Americans are easily recognized as Americans when they travel overseas.  “Somewhere,” he wrote, “there is an American look.  I don’t know what it is, and foreigners cannot describe it, but it is there.”
            This season’s political gambit is to use illegal immigration as a rallying point for voters who feel they have lost power.  It reminds me of how the Nazis used Jews to taunt Germans dispossessed by their country’s treatment after World War I.  Given that we are on the brink of what may well be a global migration, fueled by civil strife, religious intolerance and, ultimately, climate change that will wipe out coastal communities, I would rather take my lesson from Steinbeck.  E Pluribus Unum,” he wrote, “is a fact.”
*Steinbeck, J. America and Americans and Selected Nonfiction.  New York: Viking Penguin, 2002.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Creating Communities of Engaged Learners (CELs)

            Over the past two decades, online learning has revolutionized how colleges and universities reach out to adult learners to offer undergraduate and graduate degrees and credit certificate programs.  Whether fully online or blended, online learning has allowed higher education to respond to a need for adults to extend their formal education in order to remain competitive in a changing workplace.  However, the emphasis has been almost entirely on the formal curriculum.  Even MOOCs—which often offer access to formal courses at no cost and for no credit—tend to follow the traditional curriculum.  As a result, an important part of the traditional higher education service mission—be it called university extension, continuing education, outreach, or engagement—has been left behind in the rush to extend online credit programs to new adult students. 
            Regardless of the name, the idea of engaging the public in a noncredit environment is a longstanding mission in America’s public universities.  The idea of Agricultural Extension—Cooperative Extension, as it came to be known—extends back to the 19th century, when our state land grant universities were charged to improve agricultural production in order to sustain the urbanization that was central to the Industrial Revolution.  The vision, then, was of the university researcher standing side-by-side with the farmer in the field, translating research into action while gaining insights from the practitioner that would stimulate new research.
            Similarly, continuing education units stimulated the development of professional training services for industry managers, small business owners, etc.  Over the years, this expanded to an engagement between the university and wide range of civil society organizations and professions:  police departments, small town governments, school administrators, community arts organizations, tourism organizations, and so forth.  In many cases, the groups served by these programs are geographically dispersed.   They work for internationally distributed corporations or for small communities, where the nearest peer may be miles away.   The type of engagement involved may include professional training, translating research into professional action, or, in some cases, engaged research in which faculty and members of the community work together to solve problems. 
            The challenge today is how we can use online learning to revitalize this aspect of the engagement mission and to stimulate new engaged learning communities, whether in business or civil society, to the benefit of the broader community.  My purpose in this post is to suggest briefly a way that universities can bring together online educational technologies and social media to create Communities of Engaged Learners (CELs) in ways that will improve the quality of life in widely dispersed communities and serve communities of interest nationally and globally.
Communities of Engaged Learners
            The goal of creating a Community of Engaged Learners is to use multiple online technologies to create a sustained engagement of professionals in specific areas of professional and/or civic life, establishing not only a means to deliver professional continuing education but to create and sustain an ongoing professional network and dialog that will inform future research and teaching. 
            The CEL might best be offered on an annual subscription basis.  Over a year, the institution could offer a variety of professional development programs to CEL members.  These might take the form of Webinars, asynchronous online training programs, or TED-like presentations by faculty on recent research.  In addition, CEL members would be able to use the CEL’s social media environment to share ideas with faculty and with each other through moderated discussions surrounding the programs and through a general social media group discussion.  The result is an ongoing engaged community, in which members learn from faculty, faculty get feedback on research and identify new research opportunities from members, and members learn from each other’s experiences.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The PASCAL Observatory "Big Tent" Communique on Engagement

This week, the PASCAL International Observatory’s “Big Tent” collaborative released a new “Communique”
focusing on the role of universities and civil society to respond to the massive human migration caused by civil strife.   The communiqué, which is being presented at the PASCAL annual conference October 7-9, notes:
There is rising uncertainty in many arenas of public and community affairs world-wide: environmental sustainability, peace, economic instability, exploding inequality, poverty, youth unemployment and lost identity, health and mental illness, ageing and the massive movement of peoples. The history of our world is a history of migration and movement. How do different generations, people and places adapt to what is and will be a continuing phenomenon? 
            The communiqué notes the importance of universities in helping to address these challenges through research, teaching, and engagement with civil society.  Those of us in higher education,” the authors state, “need to find a voice beyond the technical, managerial and narrowly economic, and look for a deeper way of hearing and acting on the concerns of ordinary citizens: refugees, unemployed, the homeless and those otherwise excluded.”   Specifically: 
We believe universities need to take a more active role in collaborating with civil society to generate powerful knowledge, and open up their work to much more fruitful interaction with wider society. Urgent attention should be paid to how universities prepare their graduates to play a role in building a more equal and fairer world, and how they support the wider challenges of empowering citizens to work together, across these deep divides, to build a better world. 
            The current migration involves movement of people to Europe from southern countries that are overwhelmed by civil strife, economic failure, and political and ethinic inequality.  It argues for a new balance between the needs of local citizens and those of the immigrants and refugees and asks, “What more can universities do here: in their teaching, in their research and its use, in their local-regional civil society settings?”
            One particular issue embedded in the migration challenge is the large percentage of young people among citizens in southern countries.  It notes that nearly half the population of Asian countries are below the age of 25—young people for whom globalization has been an issue for all of their lives and who connect globally with others through technology.  It notes, “This generation is beginning to experience global citizenship. Yet 'host' communities and governments are resistant to this 'invasion of youth.’  They fear change and are uncertain what future rising waves of youthful mobility and migrations bring.”
            Noting that universities “in both North and South are key structures of transformation,” the communiqué challenges universities to put “more emphasis on engagement in the global South and on new forms of engagement in the global North.”   It lays out this challenge:
This requires universities to take to heart as their primary mission the present and future of our inherited local and global world. A massive community learning campaign is needed, no less challenging than mass national literacy campaigns. We share a duty of care for the future of our young who have little work, little sense of belonging to anything anywhere. Within and beyond world university rankings we need awareness of critical local and global issues linked to transformed practices of engagement. This means respecting the co-construction of knowledge; linking with local governments, organisations and social movements; new reward structures for academic staff; and a change in the culture and language of institutions of higher education. High quality innovative engaged research can assist rather than weaken good ranking.

Finding answers needs abiding optimism; new, transformative, forms of individual and collective engaged lifelong learning; new pedagogies; public and community support for ethically-based learning; research for action. A good role model for senior university managers to foster courage, honesty, public service and humanity might be the nurturing gardener. For university staff, expert in their fields of knowledge and disciplines, and capable administrators of complex knowledge organisations, the first duty is to do good for the wide and the local world.
            We must assume that this issue will only continue to grow in the years ahead.  Today’s mass migration is being driven by civil and religious conflict.  However, in a few short years, we may see a more massive migration driven by climate change—the destruction of coastal communities, the loss of sources for food and water, and increasing competition for natural resources of all kinds.  
            What practical steps can universities around the globe take to address these issues?  Some thoughts:
·      Develop means to more effectively collaborate on research and share research results.  The Worldwide Universities Network(WUN)  is one example.  Collaborative research opens new opportunities for observation of phenomena in different natural and cultural settings, creating new frameworks within which to explore research topics.
·      Expand “sandwich” doctorate programs that reduce and, potentially, reverse, brain drain from southern universities that partner with northern institutions.  Graduate students from the southern universities—who may already have faculty roles there—travel to the partner institution to begin their doctoral studies.  They then return to their home institution to complete their coursework via a combination of directed independent study and online education and to conduct their research.  The result is twofold.  First, individual students complete their programs at their home institution and are thus more likely to stay.  Second, the model encourages a research model that can lead to long-term research collaborations between the partner institutions.
·      Use partnerships to internationalize the curriculum to ensure that all students—both northern and southern—gain perspectives on the emerging global society and their role in it.  This could include using online learning to bring international perspectives more effectively into undergraduate and graduate courses by sharing students and by sharing faculty expertise across traditional campus boundaries.  The Committee on Inter-institutional Collaboration (CIC) has a Courseshare initiative   that operates domestically within the “Big Ten” network of institution that suggests how such sharing might work.
·      Offer multi-institutional degree programs through international partnerships, in which students from multiple institutions around the globe would take online courses from each other’s institutions in order to complete a degree or certificate program.  Such programs have the advantage of bringing specialized knowledge of international faculty to bear on a shared curriculum, while globalizing the experience of students across international institutions who participate in individual courses.  The Great Plains IDEA   project suggests one way that this could be institutionalized within a group of institutions for multiple degree programs.  There are also numerous examples of collaboration around individual degree programs.
·      Higher education and civil society associations should collaborate to create a website that collects and shares best practices in university engagement on these international issues.  Recognizing success is a sure way to encourage institutions and leaders to innovate and peers to emulate.  Perhaps the PASCAL Big Tent member organizations could start this process.
      Ultimately, the challenge will be for northern Universities to engage with both institutional counterparts and civil society organizations to identify research, teaching, and engagement needs and to effectively respond to them in a systematic way.  Increasingly collaboration calls for formalized, ongoing, multi-disciplinary relationships among institutions that share common missions and that are targeted at understanding and addressing the local impacts of global issues.  
      Many thanks to PASCAL and the Big Tent group for mapping out this journey for higher education.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Honoring Distinctive Institutional Missions

Globalization and the emergence of online technologies have created an increasingly competitive environment for today’s higher education institutions.  And yet, institutions of higher education are tending to look more and more alike.  Reporting in the August 11, 2015, issue of Gallup’s online Business Journal, Nate Dvorak and Brandon Busteed noted:
In a recent study, Gallup found that the mission, purpose or vision statements of more than 50 higher education institutions share striking similarities, regardless of institution size, public or private status, land-grant status or religious affiliation, or for-profit or not-for-profit status.

The authors note that, while statements such as “We prepare the leaders of tomorrow” and “We nurture lifelong learners” may represent the broad aspirations of an institution, they “offer little guidance to current and future students who are trying to select one institution over another.”
            Dvorak and Busteed recommend three steps through which “leaders can create clear and compelling statements that distinguish their institution from all others.”  First, establish a distinct statement of purpose that affirms “the institution's reason for existing from a historical, ethical, emotional and practical perspective.”   Second, define the institution’s brand identity in a way “that distinctly states what the institution offers, why it's different and why it's worthy of students' consideration.”  And, third, engage the culture—including the student experience, as well as the institutional and academic cultures—in a way that reinforces the purpose and identity. 
            In short, the purpose, brand, and culture of the institution should reflect the outcomes of the institution’s work:  its research and outreach efforts and, most importantly, the competencies and pre-dispositions that graduates take with them into the community.
            There was a time in American higher education when institutions were differentiated by purpose and mission.  At the height of the industrial revolution, for instance, state land grant universities had a clear purpose of improving agriculture and preparing professionals for the new industries and social agencies arising from industrialization; state colleges—founded as “normal schools”—were created to prepare teachers for public schools to help the children of immigrants become full participants in the American society and economy; and private colleges and universities were focused on graduating future leaders in religion, business, and politics. 
            Of course, those purposes have evolved dramatically over the past 150 years; today, it is difficult to distinguish among these institutions, especially if one looks only at their curricula.  Ultimately, the curriculum itself must embody the purpose and advance the identity of the institution.  In The Next American Revolution, Grace Lee Boggs cites John Dewey’s adage that education is “a process of living and not a preparation for future living.”  She notes that, in a post-industrial society, “more learning needs to occur outside the classroom. Education should involve real problem solving.”   A commitment to active and collaborative, research-based, problem-centered learning environments is critical.
            If, as the post-industrial era matures, colleges and universities are to be vital parts of the social and economic health of the communities they serve, colleges and universities should, as Dvorak and Busteed suggest, engage their institutional cultures to re-articulate their curricula based on a fresh statement of their unique purposes and their brand identities.  In the process, they will be more able to reconnect with their communities and with the emerging global culture. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Movies for Grownups

This summer, we’ve seen four good “movies for grownups” that provide intriguing lessons on life for Baby Boomers.
            Love and Mercy is, on the surface, a biopic about Brian Wilson, the musical genius behind the Beach Boys.  I was drawn to it, initially, by a kind of nostalgia—not unlike the attraction of Jersey Boys —but the reality was very different.  The music is there, of course, but the story is about Brian Wilson’s tormented genius and how, after many years of suffering, he found someone who freed him from an abusive psychiatrist.  The lesson:  it is never too late to find love and to start life afresh.
            A Walk in the Woods gives us Robert Redford and Nick Nolte as an aging writer and his pal from younger days who set out on a final big adventure—walking the Appalachian Trail.  I had read Bill Bryson’s great book and knew that no movie would be able to capture its depth, but nevertheless A Walk in the Woods turned out to be a very entertaining comic tale of two people facing their age and finding not only new adventures but a new appreciation of their lives and loves.
            I’ll See You in My Dreams stars Blythe Danner and Sam Elliot in what I thought was the most satisfying movie of the year so far.  Billed by one writer as a “coming of old age” movie, it gave us a sympathetic insight into one woman’s journey to confront the challenge of maintaining her personal sense of herself and building new relationships in her older years.  It is a film about both renewal and continuity.  We watched this movie over and over.
            Finally, there is The Age of Adeline, a fantasy about a woman who, due to a freak accident, stops aging in her late twenties and must change her identity with each decade in order to protect her secret.  In many ways, it is an allegory of adulthood, as we all live many different lives and, at some point, many of us become the children of our own children.  It is a very nice allegory that, ironically, was much more fun to watch the second time around.
            It is interesting how, as the Boomer generation begins to reach retirement age and has time for matinees and on-demand binge viewing, we are beginning to see films that address our issues—not the traditional issues of aging, perhaps, but instead a focus on the adventure of finding new ways to express our lives as we shift gears into what may be for many of our generation an extended “third act.”  Perhaps the promotional tag for I’ll See You in My Dreams says it best:  “Life goes on.  Go with it.”

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Higher Education: Both a Private and a Public Good

In the September 2015 issue of Harper’s Magazine, William Deresiewicz writes about “How college sold its soul to the market.”  He argues, effectively, that American higher education has essentially abandoned its traditional obligation (in the words of one institution’s founder in 1920) “to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.”  Instead, he writes, American colleges and universities have become focused on several buzzwords:  leadership, service, and creativity—things, notes Deresiewicz, which have little to do with thinking or learning.   He ties this change to the rise of “neoliberalism,” and notes:  “The purpose of education in a neoliberal age is to produce producers,” adding that “only the commercial purpose survives as a recognized value.”  The notion that higher education “might prepare you for life by inciting contemplation and reflection,” he reports, “. . . is typically dismissed.”
            Historically, American higher education has been founded in a social mission.  The early church-related private colleges—Harvard, Yale, etc.—emphasized the liberal arts in order to prepare leaders for their communities.  The 1828 report of the Yale College faculty defended the liberal arts curriculum against what Yale faculty saw as an external threat:
It is said that the public demand that the doors should be thrown open to all; that education ought to be modified, and, and varied, to adapt to the exigencies of the country, and the prospects of different individuals, that the instruction given tot hose who are destined to be merchants, manufacturers, or agriculturists should have special reference to their professional pursuits. 
            In response, they called for a prescribed curriculum organized around the “discipline and furniture of the mind.”  Notes the report:  “Our object is not to teach that which is peculiar to any one of the professions, but to lay the foundation which is common to them all.”
            A generation later, two factors began to change that view.  One was the rise of research as a core academic mission, which created increasingly specialized academic studies.  The second was the blossoming of the Industrial Revolution and with it new professions, new disciplines—the social sciences, for instance—and a vastly larger number of students who needed higher education in order to meet demands of work in a vastly more complex economy.  Normal schools—which evolved into our systems of state college and universities—were created in the 19th century to train the multitude of teachers needed to educate the children of immigrants.  At the same time, Land Grant Universities were established to ensure education in “the practical and mechanical arts” and to translate research into practice.  In the 20th century, community colleges emerged to meet local workforce needs.  All of these innovations served to create professionals for both a personal and a social benefit.
            The result was a complex system of higher education institutions across the nation—more than 3,000 colleges and universities—offering a variety of curricula formed around a diversity of research interests, state and local economic and workforce needs, and social philosophies.   This diversity has been both a social and economic advantage over decades of rapid social, political, economic, and technological transformation.  It has given us multiple starting points for new ideas and multiple perspectives on how to achieve innovation and positive social change.  That diversity is as important today as it was during the height of the Industrial Revolution.  In fact, diversity may be more important today, given the rapidity of change in almost every aspect of our lives.
            The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) is focusing on this issue in a couple of ways.  As reported recently in Inside HigherEducation, the association defines liberal education as an:
“approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity and change. It provides students with broad knowledge of the wider world (e.g. science, culture and society) as well as in-depth study in a specific area of interest.”
            AC&U’s longstanding Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) project is attempting to reposition liberal arts within the curriculum.  As Inside Higher Education reported, “The decade-old effort seeks to bridge what AAC&U sees as a false dichotomy between the intellectual and the practical in higher education, with a narrow, vocational training for some students on one side, and a more ethereal, high-minded liberal education for the lucky few at residential colleges.”  Part of that bridge is a focus on instructional process—the idea that students learn best via “deep, hands-on learning with collaborative assignments and major “signature” projects” and that the emphasis must be on “deep, hands-on learning with collaborative assignments and major ‘signature’ projects.”
            Clearly, the issue here is not just a tug-of-war between liberal education and professional education.  Instead, the challenge is for higher education to prepare students not only for jobs, but as individuals prepared to face the challenges of change and to take their place as members of a community—a reminder, I suppose, that many of the costs of an individual’s higher education are paid by taxpayers through direct state appropriations to colleges and universities and through state and federal scholarships and loans.   For much of my career in higher education, there has been a debate over whether higher education is a public good or a private good.  We need to acknowledge that a higher education—and our curriculum—should serve both goals.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Re-Imagining Continuing Education

Continuing Education has a long and proud history in American higher education.  The concept dates back to the early days of the land grant movement, when Agricultural Extension was created with the vision of the academic researcher working with farmers in their fields to improve agricultural production in order to sustain the forces of urbanization and immigration that were key to the Industrial Revolution in the United States.  While Agricultural Extension grew throughout the 20th century, many institutions also created centralized “General Extension” or “Continuing Education” units to link other academic departments across the institution to the broader community that the institution served.
            Over time, these centralized Continuing Education units became expert at matching university resources to community needs.  In the process, they supported innovation and delivered a wide range of programs and services, including:
·      Community needs assessments.
·      Evening and off-campus credit courses, certificate programs, and degree programs, including related student support services to adult, part-time students.
·      Noncredit workshops, professional development programs, and consulting projects.
·      Academic research and technology transfer conferences that create academic and professional communities around university research interests.
·      Summer youth camp programs.
·      Liaison between academic units and employers and other community organizations on responses to community development needs.
            The Continuing Education function grew rapidly in the 20th century.  As far back as 1915, institutions came together to form the National University Extension Association as an umbrella professional and organizational development for CE units.  It is now called the University Professional and Continuing Education Association and includes 400 institutions throughout the U.S. and beyond.   A shared sense of purpose matured around this community, as reflected in institutional mission statements for Continuing Education.  Some examples:

Our mission is to promote lifelong learning through the design and delivery of continuing professional education and training programs for individuals and organizations.

The Center for Continuing Education’s mission is to extend the educational resources and expertise of the University through innovative, non-traditional programs and services.

We connect Penn State’s programs, research, and services to a vast, diverse community. Our mission is to engage, empower, and inspire global learners through the transformative, boundless power of knowledge.

The mission of continuing education at the University of Washington is to extend knowledge and professional development, career advancement, and personal growth opportunities through teaching, research, and public service to the citizens of Washington State and the nation.

The Division of Continuing Studies supports the mission of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea by providing access to educational resources to nontraditional students, lifelong learners, and the community.
             --University of Wisconsin-Madison 
            The Wisconsin Idea captures the essence of Continuing Education in the U.S.  It is “the principle that the university should improve people’s lives beyond the classroom. It spans UW–Madison’s teaching, research, outreach and public service.” 
Continuing Education in Transition
            Many of the traditional continuing education roles—and the idea of a centralized CE function itself—have come under pressure in recent years, for many reasons, not the least of which is technology.  Online learning has created a much more diverse and convenient access to credit programs for adult students, giving students greater options and making traditional evening classes less competitive.  At the same time, reduced state funding for higher education has made academic units more sensitive to the need to generate new funding and more aggressive about creating direct relationships with external clients.  As a result, some longstanding Continuing Education roles have diminished and pressure has increased to decentralize the traditional role of Continuing Education as a single interface between the university and the community.
            All this came into a fresh focus when Inside Higher Education reported this week that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan “was set to call for a new focus on accountability in American higher education.”    Secretary Duncan’s immediate focus is on accountability for student success, on behalf of the students, parents, and taxpayers who fund the cost of educating traditional students.  However, there is a broader accountability question.  Recently, Pope Francis used the term “social mortgage” to describe the debt that institutions owe to the public that funds them.  The question for higher education is simple:  how can we best return value for the taxpayer dollars that states provide as general institutional subsidies?  That is, how is the state taxpayer’s direct investment in colleges and universities returning value to the community?   Part of the answer lies in our tradition of Extension and Continuing Education: to extend the university beyond the campus through teaching, research, outreach, and public service.
A Renewed Vision
            Certainly, when colleges and universities properly educate individual students—turning successful students into successful professionals—they directly contribute to the economic and, in some cases, social success of the community.  It is especially important that the commitment to student success extend to adult students, for whom re-entry into higher education is often a high-risk step.  This is a core role for Continuing Education units that offer credit programs to off-campus and adult, part-time learners.  However, we must also consider the quality issue as it relates to other, less formal ways in which colleges and universities contribute to the community.  These include professional development for a wide spectrum of professionals and technical workers in both public and private organizations; supporting organizational development for community institutions, from schools to museums to volunteer organizations; transferring the results of research from faculty members to individuals and organizations in the community; and providing informal learning opportunities for youth, seniors, and others. Continuing Education can serve as a broker for these programs, identifying community need, matching that need with academic expertise, supporting student success at all levels, and funding the development of programs that respond to the need. 
            Here are some specific elements of a renewed vision that will allow Continuing Education to help academic units across the institution engage with the communities they serve:
·      Risk-Free Innovation.  Faculty should be able to serve the community without financial risk to the academic unit.  When the central CE unit is set up as a cost center, with total budgetary responsibility for its programs, it assumes that risk.  The assumption here is that the CE unit has total financial responsibility for any program that it offers. The CE unit can absorb the risk, balancing the risk of innovation against net revenue from other programs.   The CE unit needs two things:  (1) a clear costing and revenue sharing policy that operates as institution-wide policy so that all units are treated equally and (2) a governing body with representation from across the major academic colleges so that risk is balanced.
·      A Community Interface.  A centralized CE unit can provide a single institutional point of contact with key client organizations, serving as the institution’s ambassador to the community.  This does a couple of things.  First, it allows the institution to address multiple needs in client organizations.  For instance, a company may have an immediate need for professional development of its engineering staff, but it may also need some help with marketing staff or with back office issues or with customer relations.  A central CE unit can survey needs across the organization and bring multiple academic units to the response.  It can also manage the overall relationship with a client organization, as needs change.
·      Adult Learner Support.  A key benefit of a centralized unit is its ability to work with adult, part-time students, whose needs are unlike traditional undergraduates.  A CE student services group can help students deal with the many non-academic issues that they face in trying to integrate learning into already busy professional and personal lives.  The CE unit can be a key player in ensuring student success for the adult, part-time learner.
            These roles require a strong governance system in which academic units have a voice in policy, funding, and new initiatives, understanding that funding of new initiatives is based on net revenue generated by previous programs.  All academic units thus should have a voice in CE governance.  The Continuing Education governance should be on a par with the institution’s other major missions, such as undergraduate and graduate education and research.
CE and Online Learning
            Some institutions built strong boundaries between Continuing Education and Online Learning.  That may have been necessary to get online learning started.  However, two decades into the online revolution, it is clear that online technology cannot not be isolated, but should be widely available to help institutions better serve individuals and communities of all sorts.  The online environment is part of the daily life of today’s citizens.  It affects how we work, how we socialize, how we find information and solve problems.  It is part of the fabric of today’s world.  The question, then, is not whether Continuing Education should use online technology, but how best to integrate technology into its mission and services.
            Already, some continuing education units have integrated online learning into their credit offerings, turning evening classes into blended learning courses that reduce the need for adult students to travel to campus.  This makes the courses more competitive and, at the same time, can improve instruction by better engaging adult students in the learning process.
            Beyond that, however, online technology can be used in noncredit continuing education environments.  Open educational resources, webinars, social media, MOOCs, and other variations all have potential to improve the connection between the university and the many communities it serves.  MOOCs, in particular, can be used to bring together geographically dispersed clients—professionals, public servants, etc.—into sustained learning communities that can have an extended consulting and research transfer relationship with faculty in multiple academic units.
            Continuing Education can effectively embrace online technology to better articulate the goal of serving the community with noncredit programs, research and technology transfer programs, support for K-12 education and community development, and related services.
 Looking Forward
            The original idea of Extension was a response to the need for innovation to support the Industrial Revolution.  For the next century, universities used Continuing Education to help their state’s employers, professionals, government agencies, and schools, hospitals, and other community organizations adapt to changing needs.  Today, a generation into the Information Revolution, these communities are facing even more dramatic changes as they try to remain vital in the face of a global economy driven by information technology.   Centralized Continuing Education support services, empowered by the new technology and by internal policies that create a culture of innovative engagement, offer a way that universities can help faculty engage the communities we serve and whose taxes support many aspects of our public higher education system.