The answer to the title question can best be answered by asking the same question about Apple. What would happen if Apple stopped focusing on consumer experience and product quality? First, there would be gasps and outrage heard around the world. In short, this disappointment would be followed by several tech articles written about the lack of leadership by Tim Cook, their stock price would plummet, and they might go out-of-business. However, based on Apple’s Live event on September 9, 2014, it reinforced the company is still in the innovation game and demonstrated unwavering focus on being able to deliver an unparalleled user experience to the masses. Critics attribute Apple’s success to luck or chance, but this is just a tall-tale told to shift the focus from Apple’s real reason for success which is grounded in their purpose, consumers, and commitment to being better than themselves, not just better than their competition.
So why have the gasps and outrage about education seem to have fallen on deaf ears? Has the focus of education shifted to big business? This is not just a question posed to for-profit schools, but for public and private schools as well. There are no exclusions in this discussion.
One can find a continuous stream of articles which highlight the opinion that schools have stopped focusing on education. It’s absurd to even read that statement, but it seems to be true and there are no shortage of examples. From schools licensing their brands to Jell-O, duct tape, and fragrance lines, it’s no wonder that education itself is an after-thought instead of the primary focus for schools. It seems education has succumbed to external pressures and the results of this shift is fostering negative results. Students are not adequately prepared for current and future marketplace needs, increasing tuition costs, and a lack of quality academic education.
It only takes a quick survey of several schools’ mission statements to see that focus has shifted to other social aspects and is no longer centered on the core needs of students. The justification for this change in purpose centers on the increasing costs to retain quality faculty, to integrate modern technology, to provide broader educational resources, and improve research facilities. To fund these additional projects, schools have turned to licensing their brands, increasing alumni or booster events, and focusing on building the school’s perception in the marketplace. Many campus-based schools have also advanced into online education in hopes of attracting more students to increase revenues without having to build additional infrastructure. While all of this is not bad in and of itself, if not monitored, it takes a dangerous shift away from academics and moves the focus to the business and profitability of education.
Schools need to take time, re-focus, and circle back to their mission of educating students. There are three steps schools can take to ensure their focus is on education first with all other areas becoming supporting roles.
- The Why: Schools need to take time to have a meaningful discussion with various stakeholders on their purpose, their passion, and their mission. A school without a focused and specific mission will miss their “why”. What is your school’s purpose?
- The How: Schools need to ensure that their mission statement drives their strategic planning to demonstrate how they are effectively meeting students’ needs. It’s not good enough to simply state, we teach students. It’s important for schools to focus on “how” well they educate students. How effective is your school’s Outcomes Assessment Plan?
- The Need: Schools need to understand the current and future needs of the marketplace. Without understanding how education is being used by students or the growing needs of employers, then the mission cannot be achieved. What marketplace needs does your school prepare students to fill?
This information is neither new nor innovative nor a total solution, but it is an opportunity to begin again. It’s the place Apple came to back on December 21, 1996 when it re-hired Steve Jobs as part of a plan to turn the company around. Jobs originally hired John Sculley as Chief Executive Officer in 1983, but the two had conflicting visions for the future of Apple and differing management styles. Jobs was subsequently ousted in 1985 from the company. Apple’s Board of Directors believed Sculley, as CEO, was in a better position to lead Apple. Sculley’s focus for Apple was on profits; however, after a consistent decline in revenues and lack of innovation, Apple realized the need to re-evaluate its decisions. Apple brought Jobs back to provide leadership to realign the company with its initial focus which continues to be consumer experience and product quality.
What happened to Apple was not so different than what is occurring in education. In an effort to be the solution to all problems, schools are operating more as a company and the “business” of educating students has taken a back seat. Now is the time for change when the public is demanding accountability, the government is seeking proof of academic quality, and students want to understand why they are unable to secure meaningful employment. It’s time to step back and strengthen the mission, understand students’ needs, and bring back innovation within education to make schools better than themselves.