Higher education is increasingly faced with challenges that are not easily surmounted. These are contemporary challenges with no simple answers or quick solutions. While the list below could be ten times longer based on who you talk to, several contemporary challenges include, in no particular order:
a) Increase in Title IX incidents
b) Rise in student debt
c) Decline in federal and state support for instruction
d) Rise in tuition, room/board, and fees
e) Competition for market share of decreasing high school graduates
f) Change in student profile from traditional to non-traditional students
g) Pressure to increase retention and completion
h) Shortage of classroom space and human capital to handle higher enrollments
i) Decrease in tenure track positions and continued rise in adjunct model of teaching
j) Increase in number of students needing developmental education
k) Challenges associated with serving a growing international population
l) Pressure to prepare graduates to work in the era of globalization
m) Increase in plagiarism among students and faculty
n) Pressure to align programs, certificates, degrees with industry needs
o) Pressure to increase college educated workforce to 60 percent
p) Role of MOOCs and its resistance to commodification
q) Growth of for-profit higher education sector
r) Increase in accountability by Higher Learning Commission and DOE
s) Question about the return on investment of a college degree
t) Increase in scrutiny by the media on how public dollars are spent
u) Demand on resources created by ongoing technology upgrades
v) Challenge to provide increased security on campuses
w) Impact of Affordable Health Care Act on budgets
x) Looming retirements of administrative and academic leadership
y) Aging facilities and infrastructure on campuses
z) Fill in the blank ___________________________
Again, this list is far from complete. Most of the challenges identified are from the perspective of what might keep higher education leaders awake at night. We could list an entirely different data set by spending time in the trenches, where we would discover additional challenges with campus infrastructure, student behavior, and personnel that would make our heads spin. Or we could conduct an inquiry with faculty and the list would grow even more. Garnering the student perspective would reveal unique challenges that we never knew existed, and let us not forget to include the challenges seen by the external community partners. The list of contemporary challenges would grow exponentially. Furthermore, these challenges are escalating, and creating pressure on a higher education system that was not initially designed with them in mind. These challenges need to be resolved or they will remain an ongoing distraction that pulls and pushes the educational economic, and civic mission of higher education off course, or simply prevents it from maturing. Where do we go from here? Part II will focus on solutions.
TEDx is an independently organized TED event. Over 3,000 have occurred around the globe. While each TEDx is uniquely programmed by a local community, there is one thing that successful TEDx events have in common. Their creativity comes from the ability to effectively leveraging volunteer collaboration. While the volunteers are attracted to TEDx because of the power of the TED brand, an ethos of collaboration emerges in the TEDx process and, essentially, collaboration becomes the driving spirit that permits innovation as we uncover “ideas worth spreading.”
TEDxDayton 2013 pic.
Synergy is a key indicator for measuring effective and ineffective collaboration. This indicator emerged in my research that contributed to the scholarship on community partners. The research deepened our understanding of what community partners look for and expect in successful civic partnerships with higher education. The “effective” and “ineffective” descriptors provide helpful, measurable criteria to keep in mind when establishing, monitoring, and evaluating a collaborative partnership.
- Acknowledges that both partners are better off working together than separately, creating a mutuality that results in higher productivity and progress toward desired outcomes
- Recognizes the community partner adds value to student education by providing practical experience and that students receive real-world lessons in servant leadership
- Demonstrates that faculty gain more experience in the areas of practice and direct service
- Creates feeling of pleasure from collaboration
- Produces happiness with results of the partnership
- Believes parties’ constituencies mutually benefit from the relationship
- Permits patronizing attitude toward community partner on the part of faculty and administrators
- Exhibits academic arrogance on part of tenured faculty who are disconnected from direct-service providers
- Views practice as inferior to theory
- Places students in the awkward situation of brokering the relationship between faculty and community partner, making them the glue that holds the partnership together
Many other descriptors could be added to this initial list, but it does give us a place to start when entering into collaboration. The full list of indicators can be found at Community Partners Indicators of Engagement: An Action Research Study on Campus-Community Partnership.
Paul Erdős provided us with a formula for determining “collaborative distance.” If you think about it in other terms, he gave us a mathematical road for collaborative closeness. Since it through collaboration that people are brought together to work on challenges, explore opportunities, seek solutions, and, ultimately, create collective impact, as we pursue collaborative work, our potential for success increases exponentially as we increase our Erdős number. k + 1 = collaborative closeness.
Are the competencies sought by employers similar to those needed for citizens to protect and lead American democracy? Tuft University’s models of student civic learning outcomes include the following competencies: comprehension, analysis, synthesis, planning, communication, cultural competency, leadership, and evaluation. While SOCHE’s Civic Measures are:deliberation, advocacy, consensus building, awareness, voice, and critical reflection. Aren’t both of these sets the qualities you look for and find in your most talented working professionals? That is part of the question…a question being wrestled with today. I had the opportunity to participate in the launch of a national conversation on this subject held in our nation’s capital on January 21 hosted by the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) and several key partners. This conversation responded to concerns voiced by thousands of citizens in more than 160 local forums in which participants deliberated on how higher education maintains a rich, holistic, liberal education while, at the same time, meets growing demands for specific skillsets in our graduates by employers. The topic is ripe for discussion and NIFI has provided an issue guidebook to get us started: The Changing World of Work: What Should We Ask of Higher Education? You can also watch a recording of the January 21 event to hear what higher education, business, and government perspectives shared at the launch: Live Stream Video.
As for SOCHE’s position, we believe through deliberative conversations our region’s 120,000 students will develop the knowledge and skills that strengthen American democracy, as well as make valuable professionals for the creative economy. Hence, we will continue to partner with our members to host issue forums in the future. In the meantime, think about this last question: how best do our campuses bridge their economic and civic missions into one enriched, comprehensive education for Ohioans?
This seems like a good place to capture a few old blog posts I (and also David Miler) wrote for Richard Florida’s Creative Class Group back in 2009-10 during the height of the great recession, which is evident in a few of them in terms of the focus of the content. While the thoughts held relevance then, they still do today as higher ed continues to ponder how to innovate its way into the future. If only higher ed would spend more time pondering how to collaborate its way into the future, because the future is highly dependent on employing deliberative collaborative thinking.