We Are Failing Our Students…Badly: What We Can Do About It
I recently attended a conference hosted by the #EAB, an impressive firm dedicated to addressing higher education’s biggest challenges.
You know how these industry gatherings are – you never know if they are going to be worth your time and energy or not. There’s a ton of work piling up back at the office, so your evening–after the de rigueur cocktail party and perhaps even a dinner out when you would rather get room service – will be overstuffed with e- and v-mails and a few phone calls before you can touch base with your family.
You set your alarm clock for 6 a.m. in hopes of getting in a jog before it starts all over again, but then you hit the snooze button one too many times and realize you need to pack your bag, check out, and return to the over-air-conditioned hotel facility to smile, shake hands, say a few witty and compelling things, exchange business cards, argue with yourself over whether you should eat that croissant or save your carbs for something else, absorb countless new ideas, imagine how to implement them in the coming year given your resources, and rush to the airport or train station to reach home at a decent hour so that you can say hello to your loved ones and pet the dog for a minute before collapsing.
It’s often not worth it, in my experience. But when it is, it is SO worth it! This was one of those times. This 1.5-day experience not only brought home why I work in higher education, but also thrust into stark relief the enormous challenges facing us at this moment in our nation’s history. No, I’m not talking about our current administration (though I was in D.C. where you can’t forget for one nano-second who the president is). I’m talking about the failure of colleges and universities to graduate our students and ensure they land up engaged where their degrees was worth all they had to do to get it.
Here are some #EAB statistics, which I have been sharing at every opportunity in the past week.
“For every 100 students who start a bachelor’s degree…
22 drop out of college
12 are still enrolled after six years
3 earn an associate’s degree
28 graduate but are underemployed
35 graduate and are working in a job requiring a BA by the age of 27.”
Combine those numbers with the average debt carried by students who leave college, whether they have a degree or not, which currently stands at an average of $40K, our institutions are truly failing our students.
This is an abomination.
What can we do about it?
- As the #EAB quoted and businesses cite frequently, Peter Drucker has said, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” That means we have to use data to help.
- Keep in mind that “the cost of instruction and running a complex business model are the true drivers of college costs,” and act accordingly. It’s not the administration and it’s not the lazy rivers and climbing walls. It’s the faculty and that college has become a place where all comers need to get access and be supported in their efforts to succeed.
- Be nimble. Use design thinking and rapid prototyping. Craft the problem, ask the big, hairy, audacious questions, engage the whole community (town and gown), mount a prototype, evaluate it, and move on with full implementation, or discard.
- Engage Burning Glass Technologies and other firms that have their fingers on the pulse of what the world of work needs and wants in college graduates.
- Help students translate what they learn in college to what the world of work values.
- Design every course not according to what faculty want to teach, but in accord with what students need to learn to lead a successful life after college.
- Enable every student to download the syllabus, learning outcomes, reading list, assignments, moments for evaluation, grading rubric, and feedback mechanisms before they register so they have some idea of what they stand to gain by taking the course.
- Encourage students to intern as early and often as possible, and provide them with advisors who can help them distill what they are learning and the skills they are honing, and what all that means in terms of post-college life.
- Build all of this with the mandate to help students grow into ethical and generous participants on the planet who can articulate the values they hold most dearly and their responsibilities to themselves, their families, and communities.
I think the stakes are high, but with concerted energy and focus, we can do a better job. It is our ethical duty to get this right.