After an extended Easter weekend spent intentionally away from the headlines and smartphones, it was interesting to come back to a lot of hand-wringing over the economic model of higher education. This is hardly new, but it was interesting to see administrators worrying about rising costs of faculty members and little associated hope for increased productivity. Faculty members, in turn, argue that the growth in the number of administrators and their associated pay packages, is the real cost-driver in higher education. It seems to me that this debate is at the crux of the current economic troubles in higher education. And it is not going away.
This very impressive overview by Ann Kirschner in the Chronicle of Higher Education of the many issues besetting higher education and the rash of recent books that has recounted them, made me think more about the battle between faculty members and administrators. This is a zero-sum game. Higher education is changing fundamentally and quickly, and arguing about who is to blame isn’t going to change that.
How long will it take for change to affect higher education in major ways? Just my crystal ball, but I would expect that institutions without significant endowments will be forced to change by 2020. By 2025, the places left untouched will be few and far between.
I agree with her crystal ball. That’s one reason this blog has the name it has! For my money, the growth in the academic badge movement, in particular, is a direct threat to the primacy of higher education and its domination of the market for credentials.
Against that narrative, almost everyone must change their ways, and that is going to mean pain on all sides. If the status quo continues, at most institutions, this ongoing debate will be little more than fighting over crumbs, and the world will pass by the combatants.
It comes to this: higher education is a timeless product, but that doesn’t mean the ways of teaching it and offering it should not change.
If everyone at a given institution can agree to that, then it might have a fighting chance.