“If you challenge the conventional wisdom,
you will find ways to do things much better
than they are currently done.”
~ Michael Lewis
The Oakland Athletics 2002 season is the most famous in franchise history. Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game chronicles the team’s 20 consecutive game winning-streak. Behind the scenes, Billy Beane focused on building a successful ball club with limited resources. As the book and movie disclose, Beane used sabermetrics to individually evaluate players looking beyond celebrity and gut instincts. He used analytics to make data-based decisions to level the playing field.
As funding begins to decline, higher education institutions are faced with a similar dilemma as the Oakland Athletics. The need to consistently deliver results within budgetary constraints in a competitive field. Ball clubs cannot survive on only signing all-stars. A successful ball club requires a group of individuals who combine their individual talents that, as a whole, make the team stronger.
Technology has paved the way for higher education to promote access and equality; however, traditional perspectives often get in the way. To many people, higher education is still seen as out of reach and inaccessible by a population that is rapidly growing. Political debates and regulatory changes have done little to measurably improve accessibility, affordability, and inclusivity.
Given the resources that the Oakland Athletics had to work with, signing big name ball players was not an option. However, that did not mean the opportunity to play in Oakland was any less sought after depending on who was being scouted. Being signed to the Oakland Athletics, still means playing professional baseball. Beane achieved 2002 success by “finding overlooked players who excelled in undervalued facets of the game.”
For too long, higher education’s admissions processes have focused on exclusion. We know this is true because of the emphasis and push recently for institutions to seek a more diverse population. Currently, admission applications are cluttered with data like race, gender, grade point average, and rankings. While this is all helpful data, it doesn’t indicate student success or predict achievement or potential. The talk around admissions processes nationwide is changing. Admissions officers are seeking “authentic” and “imperfect”.
Institutions need to see past the numbers and discover the individuals behind the data. Higher education needs students with goals, drive, self-awareness, and creativity. Employers are frustrated by cookie cutter graduates who are unable to think outside-the-box and exhibit the grit necessary for long term impact. Higher education is facing a drought of diverse, talented students in favor of creating an exclusive all-star team.
Changes only matter if they mean something. Extraordinary, and even transformational results can be achieved by seeing beyond the limits, mistakes, and traditions in order to achieve an ideal.
“Listen, man. I’ve been in this game a long time. I’m not in it for a record, I’ll tell you that. I’m not in it for a ring. That’s when people get hurt. If we don’t win the last game of the series, they’ll dismiss us. I know these guys, I know the way they think, and they will erase us. And everything we’ve done here, none of it will matter. Any other team wins the world series, good for them. They’re drinking champagne, they’ll get a ring. But if we win, on our budget with this team, we’ll change the game. And that’s what I want, I want it to mean something.” ~ Billy Beane, Moneyball
If higher education’s purpose is to educate the masses, then why do some institutions only allow access to the few and criticize other institutions that provide alternative pathways for success?