Change, Choice, and Long Term Thinking (or the Lack Thereof)

In a brief blog post, Brian Mulligan suggests that the coming changes are good in that they will finally bring real competition to the higher ed sector.  The devil, of course, is in the details. The good scenario is that more meaningful competition encourages innovation in how students learn.  A more frightening scenario for higher ed as we now understand it involves competition about what students learn.

The college curriculum is remarkably stable.  Whether you go to Harvard, UNSD-Hoople*, or start off at your local community college, your core curriculum will likely include several English courses, a couple of lab sciences, one class in the fine arts, at least one in math, etc., regardless of your major.  What happens when alternative models (badges or degree alternatives like degreed.com) start competing with the concept and design of the degree as we know it?

The kind of education one pursues is a long-term, life altering choice.  It ought to be, given the time, effort, and money we ask people to invest in it.  However, most decisions aren’t made with the long term in mind.  I can think back to one institution where the ratio of AS concentrators to AA concentrators was something like 10-1.  The difference between the degree plans? — only AA students had to take foreign language classes.

Given the number of times I’ve heard someone say, several years after college, that only just then did they realize the value of ________, will alternatives to the traditional degree make it easier for learners to construct a perceived path of least resistance to employability, skipping out on things that educate them as persons, but don’t appear economically advantageous in the short term?  If that happens, what becomes of higher education’s mission to educate not only the workers of tomorrow, but also the citizens of tomorrow?

  • brownie points to those who can explain this reference in a comment

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