3 Ways to Upgrade College

Yesterday’s post on how colleges are failing Generation Y explored the collapse of our education system. There were so many good comments from that post, I incorporated several into today’s post which explores some ideas on how to re-build:

1. Get rid of most tenured full-time professors.

This is already the reality. The New York Times reports that in 1960, 75 percent of college instructors were full-time tenured or on the tenure-track. Today, a mere 27 percent are.

Talented faculty employed purely on a per-course or yearly contract basis don’t receive any benefits, earn a third or less of their tenured colleagues, and are “treated as second-class citizens on most campuses,” the Times aruges. So, we need to create a system that rewards – and grants tenure – to those instructors who aren’t working full-time.

Why? Consider that “professoring part-time is already a hobby for overachieving architects, graphic designers, lawyers and entrepreneurs, all of whom can share insights from real-world experiences that full-time academics haven’t had.” Professors who solely exist in the academic vacuum will never contribute to an educational system that keeps up with today’s frenetic pace.

Instructors could divide their time between 20% research, 30% teaching and 50% real-world experience. Those same instructors would be awarded tenure to garner the respect, input and weight as a resident professor does today. What a luxurious and significant appointment that would be!

2. Create cross-curricular programs focused on foundational skills, not breadth of topic.

Carol Phillips teaches marketing at the University of Notre Dame and noted, “I work very hard to make the class relevant, but reality is that what I teach is likely to be old hat by the time my students graduate… Five years ago I was talking about BMW Films, now it’s Twitter. Five years from now it will be something else. It doesn’t really matter, the principles endure. Relevance is overrated.”

It’s quite possible that the field you work in today won’t exist in five years, or will be unrecognizable in its current form. Today’s jobs aren’t representative of a factory line, but instead require employees to make connections between fields and ideas, and be responsive and flexible to change.

No longer is your career a set of skills applicable to a single position. Colleges need to concentrate less on checking on the latest trends in their syllabi and more on foundational skill sets that will transfer from job to job, and moreover how to apply those skills in a myriad of areas.

3. Build continuing education, not grad school.

“I’m supposed to learn everything I need to know for the rest of my life in 4 years between the ages of 18 and 22? Give me a break,” says Sam Davidson.

When education fails, so too do the businesses and innovations built upon its foundation. Graduates move into real-world jobs that leave them confined to cubicles, engaging in little professional development, and otherwise left to reading books, and in some cases, writing blogs for further intellectual development.

Conferences aren’t built for learning, but networking. Grad school isn’t much better. You could turn to your alma mater’s continuing education program, but the classes offered are based more on a person’s hobbies than scholarly achievement. Like, I love taking the adult dance classes, but I really wish UW offered some history classes. Maybe philosophy. The exact courses many colleges are cutting, let alone offering as a continuation after your graduate.

An educational system that views learning as continual and ongoing would go a long way towards alleviating the fears students have of picking a major, picking a career, a life path, and trying to squeeze all of their erudition into four to six years. It’s a tragic disappointment that we look at education as something to be finished. It takes the fun and curiosity out of learning, and it’s why a great number of students don’t enjoy school or are just plain bored.

Students will always have a choice of how hard to push themselves. A university’s job is to serve up the challenges when you do. This list is only the beginning; I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What do you think? Are these realistic? What are your ideas to improve education? Do you expect change to happen any time soon?