Hand-picked selections of articles, reports, blog posts and events from the last seven days (or so).

Harvard, Yale and the Future of For-Profit Universities

University Ventures Funds is now one of the better sources of analysis of higher education. This week they discuss how popular notions of what constitutes the proper role of commerce and profit in US higher education is based largely on historical circumstance.

In contrast, American views of private universities are fixed by the era of their founding, and the subsequent time elapsed. Our most prominent private universities were founded in the 18th and 19th centuries, a time when few looked upon higher education as a business or means of support for one’s family (let alone dynasty building). Higher education was viewed solely as a charitable endeavor: worthy of a bequest, not a business plan. This, in combination with founding by religious groups, was the basis for the establishment of all our top private universities, including those established in the late 19th century like Stanford and Chicago.

Read the full article.

Experiential Recruitment 

Last week I touched on the potential to allow students to experience our institutions prior to enrolment. Zahir Irani, writing in The Guardian, explains what this might look like:

The use of Web 2.0 technologies to promote experiential recruitment is playing an ever increasing role in the creation of communities of prospective students that can now start forming and sharing ideas well before their first lecture. This is a major advancement on the traditional ‘open day’ model, where students read an outdated prospectus before suffering from information overload followed by a quick walk around campus.

Read the full article. 

Bias Against Creative Leaders

Question: Does this apply to higher ed?

Studies show that leaders who are more creative are in fact better able to effect positive change in their organizations, and are better at inspiring others to follow their lead. And yet, according to recent research there is good reason to believe that the people with the most creativity aren’t given the opportunity to lead, because of a process that occurs (on a completely unconscious level) in the mind of everyone who has ever evaluated an applicant for a leadership position. The problem, put simply, is this: our idea of what a prototypical “creative person” is like is completely at odds with our idea of a prototypical “effective leader.”

Read the full article.

Universities and Specialization

Clayton Christensen has pointed out the rising cost of colleges and universities is, in part, a by product of the fact that these institutions operate several services simultaneously. Institutions are research engines, providers of instruction, social experiences for young adults and so on. Compared to other sectors, higher education leans toward “comprehensive”.

This would be fine, except the inputs for each of the services (capital, skills, infrastructure) are often distinct, and so an investment in one area won’t necessarily serve the needs of another area. Indeed, the objectives of some services in our institutions (e.g. increased research productivity) can be counter to the objectives of other services (e.g. more time and resources dedicated to teaching).

Similarly, this desire/need to be all things to all people leads our institutions to offer services for which they are not always well-suited. Case in point: career services. Higher ed institutions are, by design, often poorly tapped into the labour market. If you’ve ever been involved in the design of new academic programs, and witnesses what passes for “Labour Market Needs” in these efforts, you know what I mean.  

It’s in this context that discussion of alternative providers is noteworthy.

If colleges don’t step up their own professional-networking services for graduates, he argues, then higher education’s role as a key job-searching hub could decline. As he put it in a recent white paper published by the American Enterprise Institute, people are now able to show their value to employers through “alternative signaling methods”—many involving social media—that have nothing to do with any college, including their own.

Read the full article. 

Sometimes Satire is TOO Close to Reality

Man Has Alarming Level Of Pride In Institution That Left Him $50,000 In Debt, Inadequately Prepared For Job Market.


JACKSONVILLE, FL—Calling his college experience “the greatest four years of [his] life,” 27-year-old University of Miami alumnus Mark Felder maintains a startling level of pride in his alma mater, a private academic institution that left him $50,000 in debt and completely unprepared for the current job market, sources confirmed Tuesday.

Felder, who graduated in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in communications, reportedly exhibits a remarkable amount of devotion to the school that led him to flounder both professionally and financially, claiming that attending the university was “the best decision [he] ever made.”

Read the full article/View video.

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