The second day of the WKU Educational Leadership Doctoral Symposium began with another thought-provoking presentation on present trends in education that point toward a major shift of thinking and practice in the future.
George Mehaffy, Vice President at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, shared the breath-taking developments underway in higher education as a host of new, successful, often-technology driven options have provided enormous competitive pressures on traditional colleges and universities. Mehaffy made a powerful and passionate case that higher education must change to meet these new consumer demands and shared information showing how online learning, as just one example, can be just as effective or more effective than our more traditional modes. In fact, Mehaffy argued that if colleges and universities don't respond to these demands, we will eventually be put out of business as students pursue cheaper, often more valuable learning experiences elsewhere.
Virtual learning institutions like University of Phoenix and Kaplan often get the brush off from traditional higher ed types who argue that their programs are low-quality (and, to be sure, there's been some justified attention given to the loan default rates for these universities), but Mehaffy suggests quality in such programs is often as good - and better - than from traditional sources. Mehaffy pointed to other, non-profit ventures for providing (free) online learning such as Kahn Academy and MITx.
My own sense is that the markeplace will work this out in the end. If graduates of online or hybrid programs don't exhibit the skills needed, employers won't hire them. If they do, higher ed institutions locked in the traditional mode better watch out: the power of school choice writ large.
Speaking of competition, in a later keynote presentation, Robert King, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, made a case for why Kentucky needs to continue expanding its number of postsecondary graduates. His argument was primarily economic, and he pointed to how other countries have greatly outpaced us in this regard and in terms of overall student achievement.
I have some doubts about the value of merely increasing the quantity of our graduates, especially when the unemployment rate, even for the college educated, remains high. Nevertheless, some of King's comments on how the quality of education can be improved, were worth noting. King discussed at length recommendations from Marc Tucker's book, Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Education Built on the World's Leading Systems.
Tucker noted fairly mainstream ideas for education reform including improving teacher and principal quality. But, according to King, Tucker also advocates the idea of for-profit (and non-profit) enterprises run by teachers to provide educational services directly to schools and districts, arguing that the blue-collar mode of teaching neither serves students nor teachers well. I haven't read Tucker's book, but King's comments made me put Surpassing Shanghai on my reading list.
Finally, I want to mention the delight I took in one of the doctoral student research presentations I attended. Heidi Crocker, yoga teacher and instructor at Logan College of Chiropractic in St. Louis is also a student in WKU's doctoral program.
Heidi shared a pilot study conducted in a St. Louis private school in which students and teachers regularly practiced mindfulness meditation. Her findings echo the experiences from schools in San Francisco and my own experiences using meditation in the classroom, which I blogged about recently. It was encouraging to see this kind of important, contemplative work underway in yet another school, where both children and adults could reap the benefits, and exciting to see the scope and reach of WKU's doctoral students and their work.
See my comments on yesterday's Doctoral Symposium activities here.
UPDATE (4/3/12): Reviewer Jay Greene offers a decidely negative take on Tucker's Suprassing Shanghai.