Some Suggested New Year’s Resolutions for Higher Education (2014)

2011-year-resolution-400x400We are now 2 days into 2014. Many campuses across the nation are closed this entire week but on Monday most will return with vim and vigor, ready to face 2014 head on.  As we embark upon another year, I (as I did last year) have a few ideas for some New Year’s resolutions for higher education.

1)      What does a degree mean?

When someone graduates from a college or university what should we as a society expect them to know and be able to do, at a minimum (regardless of major)? There is a wide diversity of opinion on this matter, with proponents of some type of national standard contending such measures are needed to guard against diploma mills and opponents contending that a one-size-fits-all approach would result in greatly oversimplifying learning. I agree with both sentiments. So I propose that in 2014, instead of taking a national approach, each institution begin the long (and arduous) process of clearly defining what it means to receive a credential from their particular institution. In addition, each institution should set up adequate methods of gauging whether or not students are indeed acquiring those skills and knowledge. This would go a long way in building an institutional “brand” and employers should be able to easily understand and identify with both the definitions and the assessments. There are plenty of frameworks readily available to assist in the process, including Lumina’s Degree Qualifications Profile and a multitude of institutions that have been quite successful at this endeavor.

2)      Invest in a solid IR infrastructure

This one may seem biased considering I came up through the institutional research ranks, but I still contend that a well-staffed and competent IR office can go a long way in helping an institution navigate budget reductions, strategically plan for growth and pursue continuous improvement. Today, as a staff member on a statewide policy making board (no longer working directly in IR on a campus), I regularly see institutions in my state that have utilized their IR capacity with great success. I have also seen many who have not and have made avoidable (and costly) mistakes.  Having reliable data and IR staff members that are able to lend context to that data is indispensable to campus leadership at all times, but especially during financially trying times when truly tough decisions about resource allocation have to be made.  In 2014, institutions would be wise to bolster their IR infrastructure with personnel and software.

3)      Re-imagine graduate education

In 2014 I hope that some brave souls in graduate education begin to publicly admit that not every student who pursues a PhD will be a rock-star researcher at a highly prestigious university and….THAT IS OK! In turn I hope those same brave souls have further courage to re-imagine the way in which graduate education is delivered. I hope that this re-imagining includes some sort of “different paths” approach; one in which PhD candidates can choose a teaching route or a research route, with both paths including some element of both. A teaching route would give students the skills they need to be effective teachers at the college level, along with traditional research skills. A research path would be much like what we have today but would also incorporate some basic courses on pedagogy. I think this more realistic and balanced approach would go a long way towards quelling unrealistic expectations and unfounded feelings of failure among PhD students.  It would also boost the level of confidence and professionalism among the teaching ranks in higher education (possibly fueling the already desperate need for recognition of the value of teaching prowess on college campuses).

So there they are. What would you add to the list?

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