March usually starts with a simple question, “did you fill out your bracket?” This question is then followed by a myriad of terms that you only hear in March, like “seeds”, “Cinderellas,” and the “big dance.” It is easy to get caught up in all the excitement, especially after seeing Loyola Chicago make the Sweet 16. The wave of feigned loyalty and competitiveness that creeps up is infectious and unites millions of people. Soon you’re reading team statistics and choosing who is going to proceed to the next round after each “one and done” game. It is all in fun until that initial crushing blow when you picked the most likely team to advance based on these statistics only to learn of an upset, such as the UMBC and Virginia game. The next thing you know, your bracket is on a downward spiral. The emotional investment into March Madness is an interesting phenomenon every year. It reinforces our faith in the underdog while undermining everything we know about statistics.
Statistics are important when making all kinds of decisions. We rely on statistics to share the blame for risky decisions. For negative outcomes, we refer back to statistics and rationalize the reason why the decision was the right one in the first place. However, as we all come to find out, sometimes statistics fall short of providing all the information we need to make the correct decision. This is when a little bit of risk and gut instinct are required.
Reliance on higher education statistics is no different. We know about the change needed, and as silly as it sounds, March Madness teaches a valuable lesson. You can rely on statistics, but if they are analyzed without looking at the whole picture then there is a risk of missing and planning for anomalies. Higher education is still operating with a mindset that postsecondary goals and achievements are only for students who can afford it and are willing to set aside four years after high school to pursue these ambitions. What higher education has failed to embrace is that while the world continues to change around them, they insist on following the same pedagogy while hoping for different results. Higher education as a whole has failed to engage in a mindshift and embrace a true transformation in how we provide educational opportunities that offer viable solutions to students.
In order to initiate change, sometimes you have to place less weight on the statistics and evaluate the surrounding circumstances individually in order to adequately address the essential needs. That is the approach that UMBC took when it used Virginia’s strengths against them to pull off a major first round upset. The following are some real truths that need to be faced in higher education to properly analyze statistics and create meaningful change.
- Today’s Students: The average student is a working adult who needs varying levels of support and services as compared to the traditional, residential, high school graduate.
- Distance Education: Online learning is here to stay and has been proven as a successful method of quality educational delivery for many working adults.
- Faculty Pushback: Traditional universities have become increasingly resistant to gaining “buy-in” on new methods of delivery and options for educational access in some part due to tenured faculty who refuse to see the need for change.
- Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems: Currently, the rapidly rising cost for higher education is making access nearly impossible for a growing student population forced to borrow money due to a lack of other financial options.
These truths are what the growing contemporary student population faces every day. Students today are living lives that require them to simultaneously work full-time, while raising a family, and trying to gain access and pay for education that enables them to remain competitive. These students have had to face the harsh reality of a changing global economy while higher education is struggling to meet these shifting needs and offer solutions. Higher education today needs to move beyond the traditional statistical interpretations of the past and embrace the realities of the future in new ways.
There are some institutions that understand the need and have made innovative changes. We read about these stories in a heart-warming article on Inside Higher Ed and it gives us a glimmer of hope, it provides a “Cinderella” story for us to hold onto. The truth of the matter is, however, that it will take more than these select institutions to meet the growing educational needs. It is going to take a unified effort to face harsh realities and make some tough decisions based on the change needed and not solely focused on the results we want to see.
“If you focus on the results, you will never change.
If you focus on change, you will get results.”
~ Jack Dixon
How is your institution investing in change to meet the needs of students today and for the future?