The Mismatch between Academic Training and Student Need: A College of 2020 Poll ?>

The Mismatch between Academic Training and Student Need: A College of 2020 Poll

Administrators are looking for different qualities and experiences in new faculty members. But the results of a recent survey show how painfully slow change can be in higher education.

For example, at a time when outsiders might expect colleges to be looking for a more flexible workforce, colleges are doing the opposite. While 37 percent of chief academic officers now say that at least 60 percent of their faculty is tenured, 46 percent say at least 60 percent of their faculty will be tenured or on the tenure track in 2020.

Higher education is simply not an industry that is built to embrace and create change quickly.

Some other examples:

— Nearly two-thirds of chief academic officers say that 30 percent or less of faculty members are using social media to communicate with students.

— Only 32 percent believe their faculty is “extremely well prepared” or “very well prepared” to “integrate new technology into the classroom.”


[Before I go on, let me talk about the genesis of this survey. We were hoping to write a report about faculty issues, a sequel to our report The College of 2020: Students. George Dehne, a college marketing and enrollment management expert and our longtime collaborator who did all the polling research for the original report, carried out this survey as well, completing it in May 2012. We received results from 156 provosts or chief academic officers. The majority of respondents were from small colleges — 45 percent were provosts from colleges of fewer than 2,000 students.

For many reasons, however, we concluded that we weren’t going to be able to write a full report. But we want to get out the results of the survey through a series of blog posts. Please contact George Dehne for more details about the survey.]

We have written before about the importance of getting the faculty involved in change on college campuses. Faculty naturally are trying to protect their positions on campus — administrators are so afraid to approach them that oftentimes the faculty is not even consulted during attempts to make change. They have to be at the center of change, and can be a major force in making it happen. As Robert Zemsky, a longtime researcher in higher education, recently said, “If you get faculty thinking, ‘We can do better,’ you’re a third of the way home.”

Our recent survey found another reason why faculty members may be so afraid of change. Many of the chief academic officers polled said their professors have been exposed by a fundamental problem: They don’t know how to teach.

“Many of our faculty members are not prepared to teach, but are experts in their subject matter,” one community college chief academic officer wrote when asked what changes to expect to in preparation of professors before 2020. “We need to develop and implement more on-the-job training for faculty members to teach them methodology, learning theory, use of technology for presentations, etc.”

Provost after provost registered the same complaint.

“Unfortunately, teachers still teach as they were taught, and many professors have not experienced good personal learning experiences for years,” wrote the chief academic officer of a private college with fewer than 1,000 students. “I would heartily recommend that any advanced degree include learning theory, effective pedagogy, and effective evaluation of student performance.”

Another chief academic officer, this one from a private college with 1,000 to 2,000 students, said  faculty members “need to learn more about students’ world view because there is a generational gap that is hindering students. The academy has to find a way out of the little boxes of time and location, even credits, so students can learn with mobile technology, groups, and outside of the semester constraints. We all need to learn how to do that for our learners somehow.”

When you sift through these survey results, you realize the training of professors and the needs of colleges are utterly misaligned.

Everything in the training of professors is predicated on them becoming niche experts in their field of study. The more specialized they are, the better. A graduate student, in order to earn a Ph.D., is expected to write an original book-length document that no one has written before. So instead of becoming a generalist with in-depth knowledge across the spectrum of a discipline, the reward structure is based exclusively on specializing in a narrow alley of that discipline. And without a Ph.D., one has little to no shot of being a college professor.

So here is the result: colleges are looking for generalists but all the graduate schools produce is specialists. Extraordinarily smart and dedicated specialists, no doubt. But that is not what colleges need. And it is certainly not what students need.

Faculty members need to be “moving to a role as coaches and mentors as compared to purveyors of subject matter,” wrote a chief academic officer from a private college with more than 2,000 students. Another provost, this one from a private college of 1,000-2,000 students, said colleges in the future will have “less lecture (and) more use of technology in and outside the classroom as students will expect to learn and interact with faculty anytime and anyplace.”

Other provosts said they believe faculty members will be more involved in recruiting students, and retaining them.

Provosts and chief academic officers believe they must move quickly to a more interdisciplinary approach to instruction that combines technology, onsite and online learning. As one provost — this one from a small private college —  put it, by 2020, “the tradition classroom, as we know it… will truly be flipped and transformed, if not dead or dying.” But are faculty capable of changing that quickly? That will be the subject of our next post.

Comments are closed.