Some Suggested New Year’s Resolutions for Higher Education

As we stare down the dawn of a new year many of us will undoubtedly make new year’s resolutions. Staring at the scale after weeks of eating Christmas cookies, many of us will vow to lose weight. Staring at our bank accounts after weeks of holiday shopping, others will promise to save more money.

calvin-and-hobbesFor those of us who work in higher education, 2012 was a turbulent year. Many of us endured more budget reductions, some of us fell prey to MOOC mania, and all of us felt the increased pressure to hold the line on tuition. In light of all of this, what will (or should) be higher education’s new year resolutions for 2013?

I have a few thoughts…..

1) Embrace the middle road when it comes to MOOC’s

Much of the coverage of MOOC’s throughout 2012 focused on polarizing views. In one camp were the “MOOC’s spell the end of  higher education’s monopoly on learning” proponents. In the other camp were the “MOOC’s are a fad and represent the dumbing down of higher education” opponents.

In 2013, I’d like to see more higher education leaders and institutions embracing what I personally think will be the future of higher education- a hybrid approach which blends the best of traditional pedagogy with high quality MOOC-like experiences. I’d like to see all of this take place within an environment devoid of hysteria; a thoughtful, data driven, and cautious environment. MOOC’s can alleviate many of the curricula and scheduling bottle-necks that have hampered both institutions and students for millenia but they are certainly no replacement for the type of serindipitous  learning that takes place through high-quality, face-to-face interactions with teachers or other students.

2) Get a hold on cost accounting

Many institutions have very poor cost accounting systems. It’s the ugly truth. When budgets were flush this mattered little. However, in the past few years, as legislatures have tightened the purse strings, the shabbiness of the cost accounting systems at many institutions has forced campus leaders to make decisions based on much anecdotal (and possibly politically driven) evidence. In 2013, I’d like to see institutions begin to explore and invest in nimble and precision-based cost accounting systems.

3) Show students the money by unbundling the fee bill

Many of the non-instructional services offered on a typical college campus (busing, student recreation center, career services, etc.) are highly subsidized.Wrapped up in the ambigious fees and tuition amounts on a typical fee bill are a slew of services that many students pay for but may not even use.  Most schools offer these services because they think it helps them compete with other schools, but why not compete on price? In 2013, I’d like to see institutions begin to charge for such services on a fee-for-service basis. And yes, this may mean that some of the services offered in the past may no longer be sustainable. But why not let students make a choice?

So there they are, my suggested new year’s resolutions for higher education.

If you know of any institutions that are already embracing these ideas, please let me know. I’d love to learn more about them.

This entry was posted in Higher Ed Musings and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Some Suggested New Year’s Resolutions for Higher Education

  1. Luke says:

    Can you elaborate on cost accounting systems?

    • By “cost accounting systems” I mean, at the very basic level, the manual or automated process through which expenditures are assigned to appropriate categories. Yes, institutions already do this but I would argue that the data bases which track and generate reports on the “costs” (not revenues, as is often the case) are not very good at tracking costs on a multitude of different levels (at the macro, or system level; the department level; by major; the student level, etc.). Nor are they very astute at taking in to account the multiple revenue sources, the multitude of production functions (teaching, research and service) or the high degree of “cost sharing” (and subsidization) that takes place in higher education. A database and reporting system that would allow for such context and degree of detail would allow for the simulation of various alternative courses of action involving costs. What most institutions have, on the other hand, are accounting systems that aid in the preparation of financial reports, not systems that aid in strategic decision making.

      But the bigger problem (and not one that I addressed per se in my post above) is not that institutions do not attempt to measure their costs (and some are pretty good at it) but rather that the resultant data is not comparable or understood outside of higher education. Even if an institution is able to tease out programs costs and cost drivers, they have little to compare themselves to since most of the federal reporting formats (IPEDS, FASB and GASB) leave a great deal of latitude about assigning costs to institutional discretion. I suppose the Delaware Study has been the most progressive on this front…..

  2. Pingback: Some Suggested New Year’s Resolutions for Higher Education (2014) | higheredmaven

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s