“Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing ... layout, processes, and procedures.” ~Tom Peters
It’s not clear how the lowly peanut butter and jelly sandwich came about, but it has remained a favorite among children and adults alike. It’s delightfully simple consisting of two pieces of bread, creamy or chunky peanut butter, and jelly. When combined, it provides the satisfying mixture of savory and sweet with a subtle reminder of school lunches and carefree times. While the specific ingredients are varied and customized based on personal preference, for instance, organic almond butter may take the place of peanut butter or a strawberry-rhubarb preserve may replace the grape jelly, the recipe remains the same.
The humble peanut butter and jelly sandwich has cemented its status based solely on one thing, its simplicity. We may not realize it, but most of the products we use on a daily basis appeal to us because of their simplicity. We look to make our lives easier not more complicated. Higher education is facing challenges today, but if you strip away the politics, traditions, and bureaucracies, what is needed is simplicity.
There are three drivers of simplicity that higher education needs to maintain sustainability.
- Efficiency: Students have one basic goal, to earn a credential that provides marketplace value. This marketplace value can be defined in a variety of ways, such as leading to a specific industry licensure, to a job, or to fulfill a personal lifelong learning goal. There are articles published daily on students’ increasing debt, low graduation rates, or lack of marketable skills. Higher education needs to get back to being a gateway and guide students in achieving their goals instead of overcomplicating the process. A record number of institutions are facing closures and layoffs due to decreasing budgets, limited revenue sources, and questionable marketplace viability. It’s time to creatively reimagine the solutions necessary to meet students’ needs and it starts with providing efficient pathways and educational options strategically directed to effectively producing successful results.
- Productivity: Like most businesses, tough times signals an opportunity to stop and reflect on institutional processes and procedures. Within any organization, productivity is a conscious action to perform at the highest level possible. It’s time that higher education review the way it conducts business and realize “what was” is not good enough to serve “what is.” We embrace technology in every aspect of our lives, but it seems higher education struggles to keep up and thoughtfully integrate practices necessary for stability.
- Performance: Ultimately, higher education needs to demonstrate its value proposition. Political officials want transparency while institutions are trying to emphasize information that demonstrates temporary increases in enrollments. In the meantime, students suffer when artificial benefits are published only to find out they are unable to complete a program or unable to achieve their goals. If a business is not performing, it is not long before it goes out of business. Is that what we are seeing with higher education? Institutions inability to perform? Higher education is missing the mark on its one primary objective, effectively educating the next generation.
Simplicity is breaking down key areas and proactively addressing issues by streamlining processes, initiatives, and offerings while producing improved results. Higher education has a recipe that everyone wants, but its ingredients are making the pursuit overly complicated. The most successful organizations are those that focus on simplicity.
“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” ~ Charles Mingus
How can your institution create a simple recipe that meets the needs of the 21st century student?