The Innovative University

The Innovative University

This blog title is the same as a book by Clayton M. Christensen and Henry J. Eyring published earlier this year. Clayton Christensen has been lauded many times as one of the best thinkers on the planet by Forbes and others. He came to my attention a long number of years ago with a book titled: How Will You Measure Your Life.” You should read it; it will provoke serious thinking.  Dr Christensen left us in January R.I.P.

The Innovative University was published in 2011 but it is very appropriate today.

But let me start with the theme of customer service. Schools are no different than any other business which is supplying a product or a service to a customer. In the Industry in which I spent my career, the Construction Equipment Industry I wrote often in my monthly columns about customer service. I would like to highlight some key points on customer service from a book titled “The Discipline of Market Leaders” written by Michael Treacey and Fred Wiersema. They focused on three areas: –

  1. Operational Excellence

Offering attractive pricing as well as convenience and reliability

  1. Product Excellence

The result of product of service performance excellence

  1. Customer Intimacy

The use of “micro” marketing to work with smaller segments of the market.

Educators need to pay more attention to these three items.

In the customer service world, there is a long-standing perspective that says “if you are going to be mediocre – stay mediocre – don’t confuse your customer.” Well let’s apply that to education. How consistently does the customer get a “consistent” offering of learning? So there is the first question to be answered? Who is the customer? In the Innovative University they say it is “Alumni and State Legislators. I say it is the Students and their Parents. The second question is – What IS a learning offering? What are the schools teaching? It used to be that schooling was put in place to provide professional personal development to students to prepare them for a career. That the career would be contributing to society and provide productivity and profitability for the employer. Is that what we are dealing with today?

The total student debt in the US in 2019 reached an all-time high of $1.41 Trillion.

One of the interesting aspects of education in this “disruptive world” is that although we have seen many new “entrants” to the learning platform we have seen very few “exits.” The book used as the title of this blog had a goal “to inspire today’s higher education community to do what it did in the late 1800’s when Harvard and its ‘peers created a new model of higher education.”

So, let’s take a deeper dive into education. To start with education is typically the largest discretionary item on the budget of the states. In most states it is on the chopping block or at least subjected to large tuition and other related costs for the student to pay. Are we getting our money’s worth? Are we getting work ready people with degrees? I won’t answer that question as I think it is quite obvious as to the answer.

Over the years we have seen some dramatic changes in education. In 1929 – 1930 there were 248,000 public schools.  In 2015 – 2016 that number dropped to 98,000. Elementary schools have changed their approach with Middle Schools and Junior High Schools but the total number of secondary schools has remained relatively constant at 23,900.

After secondary school society has been pushing everyone to get a college degree. Vocational and Technical Schools are also in the teaching business. This type of learning typically leds to job-specific certifications – “job ready” graduates. This sector of the education world is growing at an ever-increasing rate as technology becomes more embedded in more and more jobs. An Education World article “What Happened to Vocational Education (and why we need it back) states that about 70% of High Schools students attend College. However, of those who attend college 40% of the students don’t complete their schooling. And on top of that 37% of the currently employed college graduates are employed doing work that only a high school degree is required.

Clearly these facts are telling us something.

One final note is to be made. Benchmark Assessments, form Common Core standards, to SAT’s and ACT’s everyone seems to be focused on college readiness. More recently you are seeing Colleges drop the need of SAT’s and ACT’s. The SAT, Scholastic Aptitude Test) was introduced by the College Board in 1926. The SAT was originally designed NOT to be aligned with a high school curriculum. In 2016 that was changed. Now it is tied to Common Core.

The scores have changed over the years. Combined Math and Reading/Verbal scores have changed. In 1972 it was 1,039 – In 1982 the score was 997 – In 1992 it was 1,001 – In 2002 it was 1,020 in 2012 it was 1,014. Reasonably consistent. The changes made make comparisons between the old scores and the new scores very difficult.

It is now clearly recognized that there is a need for a radical review and redesign of the learning process. The Internet and On-Line learning have shown that quite effectively. This pandemic, however, has caused some hesitation. Many schools simply went to “Zoom” or some other technology tool and taught the same material in the same manner with the same teachers as if they were in the classroom. That is not a workable answer. Parents across the country in surveys are expressing their opinions on this and those opinions are not favorable.

For “Learning Without Scars” we use skills assessments extensively. They are specific assessments to a specific job function. We have “Skill Levels” for each job function based on thousands of assessments being completed. We categorize employees as having four levels of skills; basic, intermediate, advanced, and expert. We provide specific classes within “Learning Paths” to allow the employees to improve their skill level. We are providing the employees the opportunity to improve their skills and as a result improve the opportunities that they have for their careers.

The US has a high preponderance of the schools for higher education in the world. In 1990 Henry Rosovsky, former Dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences wrote that “Fully two thirds to three quarters of the best Universities are located in the United States.”  That is still true. In 2010 the academic ranking of World Universities listed seventeen US Universities in the top twenty globally and thirty-six of the top fifty Universities in the world.

Those results show that we do know how to do it. However, we have work to do. It is time we had a comprehensive review and redesign of some of the foundation building blocks.

The Time is Now.