Scott Dalrymple, the new president of Columbia College in Missouri, decided to mark his inaugural with a challenge to students. They would compete in Madden NFL, the popular sports video game, and if the winning student defeated Dalrymple, he would pay for the students' textbooks for a year. While Dalrymple demonstrated professional class skill at trash-talking, he was defeated in Madden NLF by James Dailey, a nursing student. In the video below, the president is magnanimous in defeat, saying that buying textbooks is a good way to pay a bet.
The newspaper and book businesses have been transformed in recent years. But not education. After a 30-year school reform movement, no major urban school district in the country has been successfully turned around. Meanwhile, despite loud and persistent criticism from government, media and families, the cost of college continues to rise faster than inflation and student loan debt is ballooning. So why hasn't education changed?
This nation is making a transition from a national, analog, industrial economy to a global, digital, information economy. All of our social institutions — not just education but also government, media, health care and finance — were created for the former. The result is that they work less well than they once did. They seem to be broken and need to be redesigned for a new era.
The redesign is happening in two ways: through repair, attempting to fix the existing institutions; and through replacement, creating new institutions to take the places of the old ones.
Repair has been the primary mode of change in the nonprofit sector — heavily regulated, provider-driven institutions like schools and colleges, where the institution determines what the consumer receives, what students must study in order to earn a diploma. In contrast, replacement is more likely to occur in for-profit and consumer driven institutions, in which the user chooses what products to consume and there is money to be made by entrepreneurs who successfully develop alternatives. The news media and bookstores are excellent examples — businesses in which the user determines what to read, hear and watch.
In media, repair efforts by the major newspapers and magazines were generally too little and too late. The rapid emergence of the internet and cable news spawned an array of popular alternatives or replacements — such as Yahoo!, CNN, and The Huffington Post, as well as many others that failed. Between 1990 and 2012, daily newspaper circulation dropped by more than 30 percent. Perhaps most telling: In 2011 The Huffington Post sold for $315 million. Two years later, The Washington Post was purchased for $250 million and The Boston Globe was acquired for $70 million. Adjusting for inflation, the sale price of the two traditional newspapers, combined, was still less than that of The Huffington Post.
In the book business, the independent neighborhood bookstore was largely replaced by megastores like Barnes and Noble and Borders. They were in turn replaced by the online bookstore Amazon.com, which offered major discounts on books and developed a new book format, the e-reader. Today Borders is out of business, Barnes and Noble is reeling, and Amazon has expanded its business to become a major retailer in many fields.
The measure of success in these two industries — news media and bookstores — has been profitability or potential profitability. However, the replacements also share several common characteristics. In comparison with the existing organizations, they are faster, cheaper and more easily accessible. They "have on their shelves" a much larger selection of content and titles, even highly specialized. Because they are digital, they are available any time, any place. They are more consumer-driven than their forebears, allowing users to customize content and, in many cases, to access it without any mediation from the provider. These are the features consumers chose over the existing models. They point to the qualities consumers are coming to expect and demand in all the institutions they deal with.
In this new, increasingly consumer-driven world, educational institutions — which, like government and healthcare, are historically not-for-profit, producer-driven, highly regulated, and repair-oriented — have been the most resistant to change and the slowest to act.
However, history teaches us that no major social institution can escape adaptation. When the United States made the transition from an agrarian to an industrial society, the same process of repair and replace occurred. The nation became impatient with those institutions that refused to modernize.
Medical schools were an excellent example. Dissatisfaction with the quality of doctors and their preparation mounted until early in the 20th century when states and the American Medical Association responded by raising and modernizing standards. Poor medical schools were closed. Investments were made by philanthropy and states in enhancing strong schools and creating new ones.
This is what can be expected in education. Dissatisfaction and anger over the current state of affairs is growing. Confidence in the capacity of the existing schools to improve is declining. There is a generational divide on how to respond. Older adults, who remember when schools worked better than they do today, tend to favor continuing to repair them. They are more likely to believe that the institutions they grew up with can be restored. In contrast, younger adults, for whom the schools have always seemed broken, are more likely to embrace replacement.
Younger adults are the future — as consumers of schooling, leaders of schools and educational policy makers. If the schools prove unable to repair themselves, they are likely to be impatient and demand replacement. This suggests that the schools still have the opportunity to choose repair, but the clock is ticking.
There is another caveat here. Although the existing institutions have not changed as quickly as they need to, they also embody features that the nation cannot afford to lose but are unlikely to be embraced by replacements because they are unprofitable. Two examples would be basic research, which is far more expensive and risky than other forms of research, and low-volume, high-cost doctoral programs such as physics. The nation desperately needs these functions, and our future is dependent upon doing them well.
The process of making all these nuanced and necessary changes can be accelerated by applying the interventions that transformed mass media. Foundations and other philanthropists have the capacity to spawn replacements which are more accessible, effective, cheaper and capable of being customized. Venture capital can invest in potentially profitable versions of not-for-profits that generate revenue by cutting costs and growing their consumer base. States can eliminate regulations that bar quality innovation and protect schools from making needed changes.
Both kinds of change are already occurring in education today. The result is increased competition and growing pressure on existing institutions to transform themselves. In higher education, the most recent example has been the rise of MOOCs — massive open online courses, which may be no more than a fad, but are causing existing universities to rethink their digital futures and launching a number of online education businesses.
Still, piecemeal changes and a focus on the flavor du jour will not serve education well in the long run. The time is now to consider carefully how all our educational institutions need to change, what must be preserved and what must be updated, to choose what to repair and what to replace, and to invest our time, energy, resources, and social capital accordingly.
Arthur Levine, a former president of Teachers College, Columbia University, is president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.
Professors in the arts and sciences at Walla Walla Community College have voted no confidence in President Steven VanAusdle, criticizing what they say is a lack of support for non-vocational programs and a poor administrative style, The Union-Bulletin reported. After the vote, the board of the college issued a strong statement of support for the president.
New rules from the Department of Education will require colleges to provide crime statistics on dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking, as well as on reported crimes that were determined to be unfounded.
An unusual ad has appeared in newspapers in Oklahoma and Texas criticizing the University of Oklahoma's leadership of the Pride of Oklahoma, a marching band that performs at football games (at left), The Tulsa Worldreported. The ad -- which quotes many students anonymously -- notes that a requirement to join the band is to agree not to criticize it in any public way. Some students say that the band, once considered one of the best in the country, has fallen considerably in recent years. David Boren, president of the university, issued this statement: “I’ve long had a policy of not responding to anonymous personal attacks,” he wrote in an email response. “It’s a shame that people would waste their money on such ads instead of supporting scholarships for our students.”
Cornell University announced Friday that it is severing ties to JanSport, a manufacturer of college apparel with which Cornell had worked, over concerns about the safety of workers in Bangladesh. A statement from the university said that it acted because VF Corporation, which owns JanSport, has not signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. A spokesman for VF, which maintains a website in which it says it works to promote safe working conditions in Bangladesh, said that the company has joined another group -- Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety -- to help its employees there.
Syracuse University has withdrawn an invitation for a campus visit to a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo journalist over fears he might transmit Ebola, even though he has been away from Ebola areas for more than 21 days, symptom-free, News Photographer magazine reported. The photograph is Michel du Cille of The Washington Post, who returned from Liberia 21 days ago. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that those who are symptom-free for 21 days can be considered not to have Ebola. "I just got off the phone with the dean [Lorraine Branham, of the journalism school], and I am pissed off," du Cille said. "I am disappointed in the level of journalism at Syracuse, and I am angry that they missed a great teaching opportunity. Instead they have decided to jump in with the mass hysteria."
Branham told the magazine that the university was responding to student concerns. "He was disinvited because of concerns that were generated by some students that led me to believe that it would lead to even more concerns," Branham said. "So it was in the best interest of the students for me to withdraw the invitation." Added the dean: "It's my responsibility to protect the students. Twenty-one days is the CDC's standard, but there have been questions raised about whether the incubation period is longer. I knew that parents would be upset. And at the end of the day my concern is about the students."
The North Dakota University System has placed Williston State College President Raymond Nadolny on administrative leave while state officials investigate allegations of misconduct involving alcohol, InForum reported. In a letter Wednesday, the news service reported, System Chancellor Larry Skogen said he had hired an independent investigator to explore charges of misconduct, and warned that the inquiry could lead to Nadolny's dismissal.
Matthew Faulkner, an information technology staff member at the University of Cincinnati, is suing the institution for allegedly violating his freedoms of speech and religion. In the lawsuit he recently filed in a U.S. District Court, Faulkner says that he was asked to give a speech on servant leadership as part of the university's voluntary IT Leadership Academy in September 2013. Faulkner says that, consistent with his religious beliefs, he made several biblical references in his remarks. Several months after that speech, he says, he received a letter from the university's Office of Equal Opportunity and Access accusing him of having violated several university policies. The letter also allegedly asked to refrain from making biblical references going forward. Faulkner was asked to attend sensitivity training, too. He is seeking all disciplinary actions against him to be voided, as well as an unspecified amount in compensatory damages. University officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.