Everyone I know seems to know the following about higher ed:
A. What Is Wrong
B. How to Fix It
C. Why We Haven't Fixed It Yet
Us higher ed folks are nothing if not confident in our own abilities to evaluate, and if given half a chance, solve the problems facing our industry.
I've had so many conversations with experts on higher ed that I've started to doubt my own abilities to either understand what the problems may be, or contribute to any potential solutions.
If we can't all be right about the diagnosis of what ails higher ed, and what the best path forward is for a cure, then perhaps none of us are.
Why are we all higher ed experts?
1. We Work In Higher Ed: We are experts in higher ed because we spend most of our time and energy in higher ed. Our days (and often nights and weekends) are filled with higher ed related tasks. We go to conferences and attend meetings about higher ed. We read about our industry, and participate in discussions and debates about the future of our institution and the larger world of higher ed.
2. We Thrived In Higher Ed: Higher ed insiders are usually people who thrived in their own higher education experience. It is probably the rare individual who struggled with and hated college who decides a Ph.D. and the life of a faculty member is the life that they want.
3. We Are Good At Our Higher Ed Jobs: Most of us think that we are pretty good at what we do. We are good teachers, or researchers, or administrators. We care deeply about the quality of our work, and we have sacrificed and worked hard in order to become accomplished in our area of academic work.
4. We Love Higher Ed: I don't think that is an exaggeration to say that many of us who work in higher ed do so at least partly out of love. We love the idea of being part of something that will hopefully outlive us, and may have been going on for decades (if not centuries!). We love the idea of education as a path for personal development, a system that provides our students with new options and new perspectives. We love the idea of contributing the creation and dissemination of knowledge. We may even love our traditions, our campuses, and the academic culture that we help to create and sustain.
How often do any of us say?
I'm not really sure how higher ed as a whole is doing.
I'm not really clear about the long-term financial picture of either higher ed as a whole or the institution that I work.
I really don't know if our tuition is too high, and if our costs our out of line with what they should be.
I'm not sure what is the best way to lower prices while maintaining educational quality.
I have more questions than answers about how think about changing employment patterns in higher ed, including the declining proportion of full-time faculty and the growth of non-faculty staff positions.
I'm not sure if my institution should be participating in the MOOC movement, and if we did what impact that may have on our campus.
I don't really know the best way for us to leverage technology to improve the quality of the services we offer on campus, and if this same technology can help us drive down costs.
I'm not exactly sure what to think about for-profit education.
I don't have a clear grasp on what I can do to play a role in making higher ed better for the students of today and tomorrow.