It’s a battle of which came first, the game changing regulations or the bad players. Most laws and rules are enacted to address and prevent future negative behavior. Despite the limitations that regulations can place on higher education, we can’t really blame them. Conformity is just easier. There, I said it. It’s easier to follow a proven method or formula. Why reinvent the wheel? Because higher education is at a crossroads and needs innovative institutions designed to meet the needs of students first.
Conformity stifles innovation especially in higher education when institutions are focused on increasing enrollments and meeting reporting obligations. However, for the first time in decades there is positive support for higher education change that hasn’t been present in a while. It’s a bipartisan support for higher education, but in trying to help, is the message being sent more about conformity than innovation?
In the State of the Union Address, America’s College Promise was mentioned and while there is still little information published on the proposal, it has caused many within higher education to stop and think about its potential implications. Wide sweeping regulations make the mistake of assuming everyone is the same, that all students have the same motivations and are ready to learn in the same way. It’s just not true. Students have different backgrounds, varied perspectives, unique challenges, and personal obligations that make a one-sized fits all education impossible. Higher education needs to realize students have the following rights:
- To choose. While the job market is changing and requiring some entry-level positions to have earned degrees or other credentials, there are still employment opportunities available that do not require postsecondary education. There is an assumption that students need to earn a college degree in order to obtain a job. It’s a bad assumption. Some jobs require very specific degrees while others do not require a degree at all. With a growing number of graduates being underemployed or unemployed in their field of study, how will their degree benefit them? Institutions need to take a close look at what they are offering and the expectations of those who are enrolling.
- To diversity. Thousands, if not millions, of students arrive in the United States with the sole purpose of earning an American degree. These individuals come from other countries that offer their citizens free tuition or could be attending institutions in their home country that is much more affordable. So why are they here? Well, for starters America still has a great higher education system and because we have diversity. Diversity of programs, campuses, delivery methods, and culture where programs don’t conform to a one-size fits all model of education.
- To affordability. Students need affordable options throughout their educational career, not just affordable community colleges. States are invested in educating their next generation workforce and as a result license those institutions who understand and can serve the states’ population. There are several institutions whose mission, by design, is to meet the needs of students who experience financial or personal barriers to seeking postsecondary education. These programs are successful because they are designed to meet the needs and remove barriers for participation of a specific student population.
- To be ready. Regardless of the benefits offered or access to free tuition, the bottom line is every student needs to be ready to enter postsecondary programs. Community colleges have low graduation rates because more times than not, the students enrolled are simply not ready to engage at a college-level. Students need to have skin in the game in order to be successful.
These recent solutions have been offered with the best intentions, but what higher education needs is innovative ways of meeting students’ needs. The conversation is not about funding or regulations. The conversation is about students. It’s about starting with an honest look at students' needs, not what we think we know, but details about the specific population. Conformity kills higher education because it makes truth out of false assumptions.
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
~ Mark Twain
How is your institution meeting the needs of students?