Return to a Medieval Form: Unbundling College

Higher education has been moving toward an unbundled model in which students can buy what they want and disregard the rest. It is like getting the cable channels you view and not paying for the rest. It is almost as if students were beginning to hire their professors.

Once upon a time groups of students did hire instructors. Classes met on a transient basis wherever and whenever they could find space. Students were from many nations. They were often poor and their instructors, since they were employed depending on student demand, were not very well off either. Students and academics found cities to be more hospitable for education than enclaves in the country.

The year was 1088, the place was Bologna. A few years later the experiment was repeated in Paris. These fledgling enterprises soon earned royal charters and began to be administered by the church, and so ended the entrepreneurial, unbundled nature of those start-ups. Continue reading

DeMillo – Revolution in Higher Education

DeMillo.3Richard DeMillo began his critique of higher education in Abelard to Apple, starting in 12th century Paris and ending with the rise of MOOCs. In Revolution in Higher Education his critique is more pointed – taking on tenure, governance and accreditation. This is balanced with the stories of innovators who “are making college accessible and affordability.”

A recent conversation about the new book resulted in three videos:

As an academic with Silicon Valley ties and a global perspective, he sees the pros and cons of technology in American colleges and universities as clearly as anyone. DeMillo argues that traditional methods cannot satisfy the need for increased access and affordability. He sees technology as the only means to increase the scale of student opportunity and reduce costs. Continue reading

Campus Closed

Campus ClosedIt is just a matter of time until your campus will be closed. Usually it will be temporary. Sometimes it will be permanent.

Whether by snow and ice, wind, fire, flood, civil disorder or bankruptcy, you may be certain that your campus will be closed. It is just a matter of when and how long the closure will last. Even a brief closing provides a glimpse of higher education without the comfortable assumption of shared space and time – the familiar functionality of a campus. Continue reading

The Band Plays On

Band PlayingTwo distinctly different views of reality were on display at the 2014 Society of College and University Planning conference: traditional and nontraditional – bundled and unbundled. The cognitive dissonance was there for all to see and hear.

The traditional view bundles residential experience with marching bands and the book-lined study. The nontraditional view unbundles all of this, offering credit hours and progress toward a degree without dorms, touchdowns or libraries. This all makes sense as long as they are serving different audiences – different customers interested in different value propositions. When they need to appeal to the same customer this cognitive dissonance will take the form of economic competition to squeeze what Rich DeMillo calls the middle. Continue reading

The Full Bundle

Student circle.umn.2013In the regulated monopolies of cable television, the consumer has little choice and gets the full bundle.  In the emerging landscape of higher education, the consumer has many choices.  From the piece-by-piece approach of DIY-U, to traditional institutions adding MOOC’s to hybrid models such as Minerva, conventional business models that depend on old-fashioned bundling are under threat.

Buying college used to be like buying cable – to get the degree you wanted, you had to buy courses, schedules and features you didn’t want.  Higher education bundling requires additional payments without direct personal benefit, just like paying for 500 TV channels when all you want are local stations, ESPN and Comedy Central.  Cable is still bundled, but the unbundling of higher education is gaining momentum.

Objective measurement of the costs and benefits of higher education will drive part of the unbundling process.  The rapidly evolving array of on-line options is enabling unbundling and fostering further pedagogical innovation and experimentation.  Employers are looking for talent beyond degrees, and accrediting organizations are not keeping up.  Many of the current full bundles will look like bad investments of time and money. Continue reading

All fall down: the tipping point has been reached

Walls fall downThe metaphorical walls and gates that have defined higher education are falling down.  The literal walls and gates will require some careful rethinking to avoid a similar fate.  For those who view the traditional campus as essential to authentic higher education, this will be a challenging time.  The relationship between an institution’s business model and its physical presence is being broken.

We have reached the tipping point in the digital transformation of higher education that has been anticipated for more than a decade.  The proof lies in faculty votes that are beginning to be taken around the country.  As if suffering through the stages of grief, faculties and administrations have been in denial.  Now they have moved to anger.  Bargaining and acceptance are yet to come. Continue reading

Real or Synthetic?

Haggans in PDU 130226Two recent events have brought the paradox of the 21st century campus into sharp focus for me.  First, I taught one of my courses remotely via Google Hangout.  Second, a seminar class allowed students to have an in-class conversation with a veteran Minnesota campus planner and later to engage in a discussion of Mission and Place by Kenney, Dumont and Kenney.

In the first case, technology is pulling us away from the traditional model.  In the second case, the values of the traditional model pull us back to the chairs and tables of three-dimensional space.  Technology is allowing us to reinvent many aspects of what has traditionally been the exclusive domain of higher education as they are pulled into a synthetic digital domain.  As this happens many educators are seeking and often struggling to retain the unique values of the real face-to-face experience.
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The Paradox of the 21st Century Campus

UT stepsMany worry that traditional higher education is over valued yet also believe that there is something of lasting worth in the shared experiences of campus life.   This is the paradox of the 21st century campus:  feeling the need for “campus” while technological and pedagogical realities are moving higher education away from the campus. Continue reading