Change and Higher Ed

Change and Higher Ed

These are tough times for higher education. Like many schools we are starting to see our numbers of new students walking through our door drop. Not only is there much more competition for students as we all participate in the zero sum game of building more amenities, but price point is really beginning to become the determining factor as students make choices. Tough times indeed. Things need to change. Most folks know this, and even our faculty know this, but when the rubber hits the road, change is not easy.

I just spent the last couple of weeks in meetings talking about how we can change our core courses to be both more reflective of the times and attractive to new students. The discussions were good, lively and very inventive. I was both encouraged and surprised by some of the ideas coming out of meeting and discussions. There were talks of “pathways” and “quests” and student driven outcomes. Innovation seemed to flow and faculty seemed engaged in trying to come up with a new core.

But just as quickly as the ideas seemed to flow when it came down to the brass tacks of how are we going to do this, which classes will stay, which will go and so forth, the tide quickly washed in. Change is tough, in lots of places it is tough and when it comes down to “me” making the change, then it gets even tougher. I really can’t blame the faculty, they have all spent many years and even decades in their respective disciplines. It is what they know and love. The thought of giving way to a greater good is very hard when it comes down to this change affecting “me”.

Something has to change. We have to move forward as the status quo of years past will just not take us where we want go and the students are speaking to us loud and clear with their pocketbooks and feet. Yup, these are tough times in higher education. I know the power to change is there, I know the passion is there, I now know the amazing ideas are there, what I don’t know is actually how to make that change and get us there.

3 thoughts on “Change and Higher Ed

  1. Dan – I can so relate to your post. My institution really needed to make a change a few years ago. Our enrollment was at an all time low, so the president instituted a Commission on the Future. This Commission looked at several things, but the big issue that they studied was whether or not to go co-ed. My institution had been a women’s college since its founding in 1869. This Commission found out that less than 5% of high school females look at women’s colleges. We had no choice but to really consider the possibility of going co-ed. The administration made the final decision and some of the alumnae were up in arms as you might have guessed. They even took the college to court. In the end we did go co-ed and everything is going well. Enrollment is increasing and the campus is thriving. Change is certainly difficult. Some groups will really struggle with it. Change, however, is always essential if we want to see things grow and succeed. Thanks for your post!

    1. kelly, I have been thinking about your reply for a while. Seems like you went through a tough time but came out in the end. You must have had a strong Commission (or leadership) that pushed that through. Part of our problem is that we have had a bit of a revolving door at the upper admin. Folks come and go and use this as a stepping stone to better things so no one wants to make those really hard necessary decisions and have all of the alumnae (as you stated) up in arms. Thanks so much for sharing, I still keep hoping we can make that tough decision as your school has.

  2. Hi Dan,
    I apologize for my earlier post…I accidentally hit “post comment” before I made my point! While I do not teach at the collegiate level, I see “the process” students go through in determining their futures after high school quite often. I graduated from high school in 2005 and I can honestly say that my generation, at least at my school, was pushed towards going to college. The numbers don’t lie, a four-year college diploma often leads to a larger starting salary and that fact alone drove many to pursue a degree. I still believe that college has a lot to offer in terms of growing up and learning to provide for oneself, however, today’s high school students have other options that I didn’t have just 12 years ago. Web-based training websites like Udacity offer students a low-cost option to gain or improve sought after skills that will give them a competitive advantage when applying for jobs. I’ve also noticed that current high school students seem to be more interested and aware of trade professions. It makes sense because many in my generation were discouraged from the trades and we still need qualified HVAC workers, electricians, contractors, auto techs, etc. Trade schools (and sometimes community colleges) offer two-year programs which are much less expensive than traditional four year colleges and hard working students can find themselves making very good money in a fairly short amount of time. Again, I still believe that a four-year degree is valuable, but if certain colleges don’t acknowledge that their program offerings are not in demand and continue to raise their rates, they will probably find themselves in trouble financially in the near future.

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