Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Print: The Chronicle: 12/9/2005: Alma Mater in the Time of TiVo

Print: The Chronicle: 12/9/2005: Alma Mater in the Time of TiVo: "The Chronicle of Higher Education Information Technology

From the issue dated December 9, 2005
Alma Mater in the Time of TiVo


What does the advent of the Internet mean for the notion of the liberally educated person? What is the role of the humanities in an era dominated by technology? Ann Kirschner, founder and president of Comma International; Richard A. Detweiler, president of the Great Lakes Colleges Association; and the Rev. Charles L. Currie, president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, tackled such questions, as well as several from the audience.

This year's crisis in higher education is about more than money: Alma Mater is facing a perfect storm of changing demographics, mounting costs, increased competition, and technological choices. And the liberal arts are at the leading edge of that storm.

Having split my own career between academe and business, I recognize that solutions will be costly, not only in dollars, but in political capital, the most precious currency on a college campus. Educational reform moves at a glacial pace, and the last 10 years have not been kind to innovators. As waves of schadenfreude have broken over their heads, politicians and the wider public have stepped up demands that college officials define the value of higher education, in general, and the liberal arts, in particular — and that they be held accountable for providing it.

If we look at this as a business case, the news is good. Demand for higher education has never been stronger. But the bad news is that colleges are poorly prepared to serve today's students in ways that accommodate today's realities. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only a third of the more than 16 million students in higher education are the full-time, 18- to 22-year-olds who used to dominate college classrooms. The rest are part-time or older students, juggling family responsibilities, jobs, and studies. While those students recognize that a college degree is essential to their professional prospects, they demand flexibility and convenience in the process and marketability in the outcome.

Again, if this were a business case, the enterprise would follow the demand, follow the customer, and adapt. Over time we would find new models of distribution, technology, and management to serve the customer with greater efficiency. For most colleges, however, the language of the marketplace rings hollow, especially the notion of students as consumers. And the leadership to seek new educational models is hard to find."

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