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.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Innovation in Outreach and Extension: Some Thoughts on the Next Wave

The last decade has been a time of significant innovation in university extension and outreach.  At the same time, higher education in general has been under increasing criticism for focusing on narrow professional programs and losing its social mission.  Much innovation has been driven by technology—putting existing curricula online to serve adult and part-time learners, especially.  As we look ahead, we need to ask how we can use both traditional means and online technology to address the many problems facing our communities in a new social and economic environment.  Here are four areas where I think we are ripe for innovation in Extension and Outreach:
1.            Partnering with K-12 Education It is generally understood that, if our communities are to compete in the new global information economy, we need a better-educated workforce.  More high school graduates need to go on to college.  The Obama Administration proposal to make community college free to qualified students is an example of this goal.  The U.S. Department of Education target is that 60% of high school grads will go on to college; only about 39% do now.  The problem is that most high school graduates who are prepared to enter college already do so.  In order to increase the percentage, we need to increase the number of high school students who are, in fact, prepared to succeed in college.   Two innovations could set the stage for new, ongoing relationships between higher and K-12 education:
·      Dual Enrollment Courses  Universities can partner with local schools to allow high school students to enter lower-division college courses and simultaneously earn high school graduation credit and college credit.  The result is students who are more ready to enter college and who do so with some credits already on their resumes.
·      Open Educational Resources  Universities that offer online courses can extract online content modules from courses and make them available to help high school teachers enrich college prep courses.   There is a model for this—the relationships among public television stations, local schools, and state departments of education that delivered content over the air to schools from the 1960s through the 1980s.

2.            Re-Imagining Extension  Originally, Agricultural Extension was created to increase agricultural production, so that the U.S. could sustain the combined forces of urbanization and immigration that fed the Industrial Revolution.  Today, we are facing different challenges.  As the 21st century advances, we will need to help farmers deal with a range of agricultural issues—this time in the face of dramatic climate change—but we also need to expand the Extension ideal to help our communities, large and small, deal with the economic and social issues presented by the Information Revolution.  How can we help communities maintain their social and economic validity in the face of a globalized economy?  In an era of social media, how do we rebuild the physical community—our towns and villages, as well as our cities—into socially and economically viable places to live, raise families, conduct business, and exercise citizenship?  Online technology can play a role here, too, by bringing community leaders together to share ideas and best practices and to learn from faculty researchers, building new ways to transfer research and technology into daily practice in business, government, and civil society.
3.            Globalizing the Discussion  Over the past few generations, institutions have tended to see international outreach as a one-way street—a way to export our faculty expertise, our research and technology, and our credentials.  Today, we need to seek out more evenly balanced institutional partnerships that bring faculty together across cultures, eco-systems, and economies to share ideas, to find common solutions, and to inform each other—and our students—about new perspectives in our globalized society.  The Worldwide Universities Network is a pioneer in this arena and a model that other institutions can follow.  Another early innovation is the partnerships between institutions to offer “sandwich” doctorates that reduce brain drain from developing countries while developing new collaborative research opportunities.   A fundamental challenge in this area is to help our constituencies better understand the global environment by allowing them to interact with counterparts around the world as students, as outreach/extension clients, and as research transfer partners.
4.            Preparing Retirees for the Third Act  In today’s world, people live longer, more healthy and active lives.  For many, retirement is no longer the end of active life, but the beginning of a “third act,” when men and women can look beyond the need to support their families and find new interests.  Helping the first few generations of these new seniors find a place in society—whether it be in new professions or as volunteers or just active individuals—is a new way that outreach and extension units can bring university knowledge and expertise to bear to serve individuals and, in the process, strengthen communities.  Older adults are a new and growing population who need access to university resources no less than they did as young professionals.  And, our communities need older adults who are prepared to contribute in new ways.
            These innovations are not technological per se, but they are facilitated by technology.  The demonstrate how public higher education can re-imagine the roots of its outreach/extension mission in the process of re-focusing on the needs of today’s community.