Submitted by Ryan Craig on November 20, 2015 - 3:00am
“It is important to remember that amateurs built the ark and it was the professionals that built the Titanic.”
-- Ben Carson
The above quotation is my favorite snapshot from the presidential campaign so far, and Ben Carson is involved in many of my other favorite moments, from continuing to insist that the Egyptians built the pyramids to store grain to the controversy over whether young Ben Carson actually attempted to stab a friend in a stomach.
Due to his lack of training in Egyptology and -- more important -- politics, Dr. Carson has a vested interest in elevating amateurs at the expense of professionals (including, presumably, medical professionals like himself -- for the record, it’s not clear if Carson takes the same position on neurosurgery). Nevertheless, the apparent appeal of such populist positions this election cycle demonstrates that Carson is giving voice to the frustrations of millions of American who are credulous enough to take phone calls from pollsters.
Some have asked whether we’re seeing a similar trend in higher education. Are professionals at colleges and universities taking a backseat while Americans learn from Gentle Ben and other amateurs?
Back in April, LinkedIn spent $1.5 billion to acquire Lynda.com, a library of more than 5,000 online courses and 250,000 video tutorials on business, technology and creative skills. Udemy is home to over 30,000 amateur courses in 80 languages, including Jimmy Naraine’s top-selling course Double Your Confidence and Self-Esteem,and reported annual revenue growth of 160 percent in 2014 and 200 percent in 2015. (I have a feeling that Ben Carson and Jimmy Naraine share a similar demographic appeal.)
In IT, there’s Pluralsight, offering 3,700 IT courses, where revenue is doubling annually and a planned IPO should value the company over $1 billion. Finally, there’s Udacity, which provides IT courses and “nanodegrees” and recently announced both 1,000 nanodegree graduates as well as a financing that valued the company over $1 billion. These fast-growing companies are convincing millions of Americans that their educational products and programs are a good investment without regard to the involvement of faculty members or colleges and universities.
All this begs the question: Have we reached amateur hour in higher education?
The answer depends very much on how we define expertise. College and university professors are undoubtedly the leading experts in their domains of knowledge, particularly as it pertains to published books and research. Some (but far from all) are also leading experts on effective instruction and assessment.
But few college and university faculty members (or programs or departments or schools) can credibly claim expertise as to the competencies employers are seeking in new hires, particularly for easier-to-assess technical and hard skills. In this area, companies like Udacity -- which builds its nanodegrees with employers like Google -- can stake a firmer claim to “expertise.”
In fact, virtually any “amateur” provider that is successful in engaging employers in program development and delivery can credibly stake a greater claim to this expertise than even (or especially) our oldest and most prestigious institutions. This leaves colleges and universities in the uncomfortable position of “amateurs” -- stewing over comments from the likes of Google’s senior VP of people operations (grades in degree programs are “worthless as a criteria for hiring”) and partnering with employer-facing prehire training intermediaries like Galvanize or ProSky in order to remain relevant to students.
This is not to say that skyrocketing interest in Udacity and its brethren demonstrates an elevation of amateurs at the expense of experts. Rather, it is indicative of a shift in the type of expertise most valued in the postsecondary education market. While faculty expertise on subject matter and instruction is often profound, the value for students is increasingly viewed as abstract or frivolous. In contrast, expertise on the competencies in demand by employers is increasingly viewed as purposeful, dynamic and attractive -- both in terms of clarity of interface, as well as providing a full-stack offering.
“We needed more skill in the workforce. We turned to colleges and said, ‘You have a new mission.’ Higher education really is a workforce-development system. It doesn’t like to see itself that way.”
-- Anthony Carnevale, director, Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce
Colleges and universities have resisted their role in workforce development primarily due to the historic association of workforce development with “skill” development, and the association of “skills” with matters “vocational.” Our isomorphic view of what it means to be an excellent institution of higher education doesn’t come close to comprising vocational skill development.
But you won’t be surprised to learn that the market is moving faster than colleges and universities. Providers like Udacity, Galvanize and ProSky are delivering the type of expertise most valued by students. They are doing this not only by connecting with employers, but also by wrapping themselves in the mantle of workforce development and recognizing that “skills” also comprise higher-level executive function capabilities such as critical thinking and problem solving.
Colleges and universities that dismiss these providers as limited to vocational skills -- the purported amateurs” of the sector -- may have Jimmy Naraine’s confidence, but it’s a false confidence. Institutions that wish to float like an ark rather than sink like the Titanic on the choppy seas ahead should learn from Ben Carson and take a stab at connecting with employers.
Ryan Craig is managing director at University Ventures, a fund focused on innovation from within higher education.
A majority of Americans surveyed by WGBH News said they would encourage high school students to attend community college rather than take out loans to attend a four-year college. The poll, conducted for the radio station's On Campus program and a special “College Material” series, asked a representative sample of Americans how they would advise a high school student who either had inherited $200,000 or was planning to take out loans for a postsecondary education. In both cases, majorities of respondents said they would encourage the student to enroll at a community college. The rest of the survey's results can be seen below.
As many predicted he would, Robert Breuder sued the College of DuPage less than a day after it formally fired him, The Chicago Tribune reported. The board cited financial mismanagement, among other issues. But Breuder is arguing that he had an exit agreement with the college that it lacked the legal right to void, as it did to fire him.
Nation's largest accreditor has decided that many of those who lead dual enrollment classes aren't qualified to do so, leaving schools and colleges fearing the loss of a program they view as a success.
The College of the Albemarle, a community college in North Carolina, has indefinitely suspended its two intercollegiate teams, baseball and softball, the Associated Press reported. Board members, in approving the suspension, said they would reconsider if more funds for athletics became available. Board members said those two teams need more money, and that the college would need to add another women's team as well to comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
Submitted by Paul Fain on October 15, 2015 - 3:00am
The American Association of Community Colleges and the Association of Community College Trustees today announced that they will partner with the group Higher Ed for Higher Standards to commit to a push for more challenging academic standards in K-12. The two primary trade groups for the two-year college sector said in a joint statement that their goal is to better help prepare students for success in college and careers.
"ACCT and AACC have long advocated greater alignment between K-12 school standards and first-year credit-bearing course requirements for community colleges. Community colleges have a vested interest in raising standards so that students who come through community college doors will be able to get started immediately on college-level course work," they said. "Although community colleges have time-tested expertise in filling the need for remediating students and preparing them for college, providing remediation to 50 percent or more of entering students is a tremendous strain on resources that can be applied to teaching students at the college level, not to mention delaying students’ progress through higher education and ultimately toward finding gainful employment."
The groups said they applaud states that have raised academic standards, saying that push "holds tremendous potential for increasing the number of students who arrive in our colleges and businesses prepared for success."
Submitted by Ryan Craig on October 15, 2015 - 3:00am
Can you name 50 U.S. colleges or universities that (i) don’t carry the name of a state and (ii) don’t have a Division I football or basketball team? If you can, you’re an elite reader of Inside Higher Ed.If not, you’re probably suffering from myopia like the rest of us.
Myopia in higher education is the tendency to mistake elite institutions -- the Harvard of Love Story (or really the Harvard of any of Kevin Carey’s favorite films) -- for the whole of our wonderful, diverse system. But this is not the only form of myopia afflicting our sector.
Conventional wisdom on postsecondary education says that the entire enterprise is indistinguishable from the work of colleges and universities. However, a recent report by Tony Carnevale and the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce serves as a corrective lens: colleges and universities represent $407 billion of the $1.1 trillion spent on postsecondary education and training, or only 37 percent of the total.
On the other hand, spending on training provided by employers is nearly 50 percent greater than all college and university spending. And broken down by age group, while colleges and universities dominate total postsecondary spending for young adults, they account for less than a quarter of total spending on adult education and training.
College and University Share of Total Spending on Postsecondary Education
It appears as if higher education is suffering from double myopia: the first misconception of the system is mistaking elite universities for all colleges and universities. The second is mistaking colleges and universities for all postsecondary education.
As we refocus our vision, the next big opportunity for growth in education may not be in attempting to “do college better,” but rather found in the yawning gap between what we typically conceive as postsecondary education and the world of work.
U.S. employers are developing a global reputation for wanting the perfectly qualified candidate delivered on a silver spoon -- or they won’t hire. As Peter Capelli of Penn’s Wharton School astutely notes, “Employers are demanding more of job candidates than ever before. They want prospective workers to be able to fill a role right away, without any training or ramp-up time. To get a job, you have to have that job already.”
He calls it the “Home Depot view of the hiring process,” where filling a job vacancy is “akin to replacing a part in a washing machine.” The store either has the part, or it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t, the employer waits. The result is that while there are over eight million unemployed workers, we have over five million unfilled jobs, and perhaps as many articles featuring employers whining about unprepared workers.
In his wonderful monograph “Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs,” Capelli says we have a “skills standoff,” with employers dissatisfied with the level of new hire preparation but unwilling to provide training or otherwise engage in skill-building activities with candidates. One major reason? Employers don’t want to risk investing in employees who may leave the company soon after.
And so the supposed skills gap is a byproduct of a trust gap. How can we get employers to trust new hires and engage in training and skill building? Likewise, how can we get candidates to invest in their own skill building -- perhaps even skill building specific to an employer -- so that employers find the “right part in a washing machine”?
Bridging the skills gap is not work that employers are prepared to do. In response, over the past several years we have seen a variety of intermediaries emerging at the intersection of higher education and the labor market in an area we call pre-hire training.
Some focus solely on training. Some focus on training and placement or matching services. Others focus solely on matching candidates with employers. In terms of revenue, some seek revenue from job seekers. Others generate revenue from employers. Still others attempt to charge education providers. The result is a matrix that looks something like this:
While these pre-hire training companies are diverse and include boot camps, online training providers, employment brokers, staffing companies, e-portfolio providers, and competency and credentials marketplaces, what they have in common is the following:
Pre-hire training is skill specific and often employer specific.
Employers are not asked or expected to bear the cost of pre-hire training, or engage in any way until candidates are trained. Rather, the cost of pre-hire training is borne by the candidate or the intermediary. (Even when the intermediary bears the cost of the training, the candidate hasn’t been hired yet, so the employee has skin in the game.)
Once intermediaries are successful in aggregating a pipeline of qualified candidates for employers, employers jump in with both feet and are willing to compensate intermediaries for producing employees who will be productive from day one as well as engage in developing and improving training curricula.
Fast-growing pre-hire training intermediaries like Galvanize, eIntern, Credly, ProSky and Portfolium are establishing structures and programs that encourage employers and candidates to trust one another. For example, pre-hire training companies that are confident in their ability to train and place candidates, and thereby attract employers, can guarantee some outcome to candidates to bring them in the door in the first instance. This could be a guaranteed interview, or even a job guarantee if they successfully complete the pre-hire training.
While some of this should be the province of colleges and universities, much of it won’t be. Higher education institutions should be in the business of equipping students with general skills like coding or reading a balance sheet -- tangible skills that are directly relevant to thousands of workplaces across the country.
However, I don’t see colleges and universities involved in matching students with employers at the level of the competency -- a proposition that requires institutions to assess students’ competencies and then match, rather than simply arranging job fairs and interviews. Nor do I see institutions engaging in employer-specific training on products, systems and process, so new hires can hit the ground running like an experienced employee. When we get beyond skills-based training to matching students with employers, intermediaries aggregating candidates from multiple institutions and providing matching and training services for multiple employers will be much more productive for students and employers than a single institution: scale matters.
Many institutions (and their students) will benefit from partnerships with these intermediaries. By connecting students with employers, students will have a better sense of the placement and salary outcomes from their program of study. But colleges and universities need to be prepared for the consequences: higher ROI programs will benefit at the expense of low ROI programs; shorter, less expensive programs with credentials that clearly convey competencies are likely to flourish.
The impact of this new generation of pre-hire training companies on students and employers is likely to be more profound. They will provide employers with visibility into a deep pool of future talent, along with the means to engage and attract this talent. And they will provide students with a much clearer road map of the education and training required in order to be considered by employers of choice. While our vision now is still quite cloudy, pre-hire training companies have the potential to restore it to 20/20, and dramatically improve the efficiency of our labor and postsecondary education markets.
Ryan Craig is managing director of University Ventures, a fund focused on innovation from within higher education.