Tis’ the season for decking of halls, taking sleigh rides, hanging mistletoe, ringing silver bells, and watching Christmas movies. Among my favorite holiday movie is Disney’s A Muppet’s Christmas Carol, an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as told by Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat. Although this story is often read to children, there are meaningful truths that apply to higher education all told through the eyes of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.
The Ghost of Higher Education Past. While not as traumatic of an experience as portrayed in A Christmas Carol, the Ghost of Christmas Past reviews Ebenezer Scrooge’s actions and decisions that shaped his life and made him say “Bah Humbug!” For higher education, we reflect on the traditions, many of which still define education today such as ivy covered buildings, echoing lecture halls, and elbow-patched coats. Tradition also solidifies the closely held thoughts that higher education should remain as it has always been. Why change a system that has worked so well in the past? While education may have remained largely unchanged, the surrounding world has continued to progress. Change is a necessary part of life and cultures. As the environment and needs around us change, so too must we adapt in order to thrive. This is true for higher education which has come a long way from the time when the only educated members of society were the clergy.
The Ghost of Higher Education Present. In the story, the Ghost of Christmas Present is able to provide Ebenezer Scrooge with an honest look at his life from all perspectives. Ebenezer Scrooge used this reflection to realize the need for change in his life. Similarly, the news media acts as the Ghost of Christmas Present by providing higher education current events, updates, and reports in order to keep up with regulation changes and its effects on students, government, and administration. Higher education has identified its need to change as well and is struggling to maintain traditions while striving to meet the expectations of students, employers, taxpayers, donors, and increasing governmental accountability.
The good news is that there is “room for everyone on the nice list.” Besides the reference to Elf, this means there is room for everyone to serve their target student population in ways that showcase individual institutional values. Institutions do not need to be all things to all people. It’s important for each institution to identify and target those students who can best benefit from the unique learning model offered. Students need a variety of options to achieve their educational goals. Institutions need to realize these options are best delivered by those who have the necessary knowledge, background, and experience to deliver them well. People choose to attend a 4-year residential institution right after graduating high school because that fits their individual educational goal. There are other students who are mobile and work full-time who can only be successful in online programs. As time has progressed, higher education has been slow to adapt and depart from tradition and to accept various forms of alternative educational methods. While some progress is being made to meet expectations and educate a new generation of students who can meaningfully contribute to society, there is still more work to do.
The Ghost of Higher Education Future. Perhaps the most terrifying part of A Christmas Carol is when Ebenezer Scrooge realized he had so little impact on the community around him that everyone was actually celebrating his passing. It was his wake up call. A chance for him to change not only himself, but in making that change, he was able to positively impact those around him. Not everyone in higher education holds the clout necessary to make decisions that could instantly change and improve the U.S. education system, but change doesn’t have to start big. In fact, most meaningful change starts with a thoughtful, risk-taking, small idea. It can start with a single institution. In A Christmas Carol, a town was changed through the efforts of one man. You may work at an institution and think there is not much you alone can do, but each person you come into contact with is another opportunity to make a positive impact. Through a collaborative effort, that is arguably already underway, higher education can be positively impacted resulting in a change to its future direction.
So as you celebrate with family and friends and maybe find yourself watching A Muppet’s Christmas Carol, think about those everyday things you do that have a positive impact on higher education today. Sometimes it’s as simple as serving students well, removing unnecessary barriers, offering quality educational options, or getting involved in national and state policy-making efforts.
Whatever your positive impact is, EduCred Services wishes you a very happy holiday season full of love, laughter, and learning!