“Middle” Universities: You’re in Trouble

By Shlomo Maital

low middle

Brand name        “Middle”       Local Univ

Universities       Universities

At a recent gathering of some of my former students, I heard an exceptionally interesting talk by one of them, now a senior executive at an on-line university.

His point: many universities are asleep. They face growing stiff competition from on-line courses, which are meeting students’ needs far better. The age of ‘industrial grade’ education, one size fits all, standard program, standard diploma, standard degree,   is nearing its end.

   Students want specific skills, and according to Forbes Magazine, 80 per cent of MBA programs THINK they provide those skills, but 80 per cent of MBA students believe that they do not. The skills including: critical thinking, ability to analyze complex situations, decision-making and active listening.

   In future, we will need more knowledge workers, higher productivity, but governments are spending less and less on education (in the U.S. student loans impose usurious interest, up to 11 per cent, and unlike mortgages, they cannot be escaped).     More and more, employers want proof of key workforce skills, not empty credentials like diplomas or degrees that are evidence only of the ability to pay high tuition and pass exams.  

So, watch for on-line courses offering specific skills (e.g. on Coursera, a highly popular course teaches how to create applications for Android devices). Look for older workers to take those courses, as part of lifelong learning and skill rejuvenation. And warns the speaker, watch out if you’re a university “in the middle”, i.e. not a brand name, like Yale or Stanford or MIT,   and not a purely local university, conveniently nearby its students. In the middle, universities like Arizona State U., may be in trouble – offering neither the advantage of brand name nor close-by geography.

   In future all higher education will be a complex blend of conventional classroom courses and on-line courses. The universities that prepare best and fastest for this development will come out ahead. But most of them seem to be asleep.

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