Ossified Education

I started reading The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out by Clayton Christensen and Henry Eyring. So far, it re-iterates some of the sentiments that I’ve seen before:

  • Sustaining innovation of the university has left it out-of-touch with the market. Higher education institutions have long practiced piecewise expansion of their curriculum, services, and operations. Internal politics prevent cutbacks in these areas, even in the face of a tough economy. Today most universities offer a plethora of specialized classes and run research campaigns to attract talented faculty. In the words of former UC president Clark Kerr, they have become a multiversity.
  • The university promotes from within. There is no way to better entrench your viewpoint, and become a self-serving institution than to promote those who best represent the existing ideals. Most university officials act as stewards, steadily maintaining the course, applying diplomatic techniques and policies that have worked well in the past (on which they’ve built a successful career).
  • Accreditation promotes self-regulation. Education one of the least politically and socially regulated of publicly funded institutions in large part because of the astounding success of accreditation agencies and course transfer agreements. However, mechanisms of comparison have lead most institution’s to emulate the Harvard model.
  • Accreditation prevents disruptive entry into the market. Companies have so outsourced the building of skills to the university system, that acquiring a job without a certification of passing enough ‘standard credit’s is now quite difficult. However, recent technological advances have made information available as never before. I, for example, have learned more by reading how-to’s and articles online, than through any other medium; certainly more than listening to lectures. Anyone with sufficient dedication can learn incredibly useful skills, and participate with others during the process. Even though it’s quite possible to learn more in this way, employers are reluctant to read your resume without that paper certification. This situation acts to raise the barrier for start-up education companies.

For example, DeVry teaches a diverse collection of 85,000 students, and keeps very close watch on tuition costs, dropout rates, and satisfaction levels. They have for-profit motives to provide higher quality education at lower costs in order to promote their brand.