When I was writing my dissertation one of my advisers, Dr. Syverson, used to gently tease me about my over-use of the word crisis. Academics, she said, always feel that academia is in crisis. It’s true, and yet I still believe that academia is nearing some sort of profound change, even if that change is less revolutionary than evolutionary. It’s a big sluggish set of institutions and nothing happens quickly.
What happened to the U.S. postal system is happening to education: the public monopoly is over, for good or worse. It was a bad idea to allow the fully unregulated growth of online private education. Too often, it allowed the industry to fall victim to it’s own worst instincts. Careful regulation might have slowed growth, but prevented a lot of problems. Now we have a lot of ground to make up.
As this slow-motion crisis unfolds, it’s interesting to see what sorts of ideas and models are held up as potential solutions. The most typical, as exemplified by Jeff Silengo, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, is business (“Think Different? Not in Higher Ed“). Universities, Silengo says, ought to innovate like Apple. After nearly three or four decades of emulating business, this claim seems silly at best.
The Chronicle also posted an article this week on a very different model, used at Syracuse, rooted not in business but in public service. (“Syracuse’s Slide“). Even more interesting, this model– it’s not new as much as return to another tradition– is ignored by Silengo, even though it is discussed just a few clicks away. As the title suggests, universities should think differently, but not that differently.