We’re going to lead with the bad news – though we suspect most people won’t be shocked: “Moody’s Investors Service is issuing a negative short-term outlook for the entire [higher education] sector”. The downgrade reflects five big factors, including but not limited to: depressed family incomes, mounting student debt, online threats and lack of strong, decisive leadership.
We’re not pointing fingers – we understand the pressure, politics and unique challenges within this sector -- but these third-party reports are certainly a gut-check moment for any industry.
A recent editorial by Eliza Woolf (possible alias) on Inside Higher Ed is sparking a flurry of reaction. Comments are piling up under Woolf’s assessment of Generation Z, the incoming and current crop of students matriculating the halls of higher education. She says, as a group, students are anti-social, awkward and often clueless:
It really doesn’t matter if I hand out a hard copy of the syllabus, post it on Blackboard, and blitz every student in the class with multiple e-mails containing the contents of the syllabus distilled for their reading pleasure, a large portion of the class will claim to have no idea what they’re supposed to be reading, when assignments are due, or how many points they’ll lose for submitting a late paper or skipping class. Multiple students will simply fail to submit assignments because they "didn’t have a copy of the book" — and this occurs 11 weeks into the semester.
Woolf’s editorial has generated a lot of follow-on support within the comments, but a few others have stepped forward with another perspective:
@Alicew: Just a contrarian thought to stir the pot a bit. I was appalled to observe the apathy and lack of high standards among undergraduates when i started teaching--in 1974! I suspect that those of us who enjoy learning and are committed to doing excellent work have always been in a minority, especially in some disciplines. Those of us who go on to work in higher education are outliers in terms of what we bring to our work. I also think often of the 80/20 principle. 20 percent of our students--many of them not all that capable--will take up 80% of our time. That colors our perception of the whole group. And, as i remind my administrator spouse--20% of that 20% (= 4%) ARE problems--difficult to get along with, completely spaced out, absolutely clueless--and take up an inordinate amount of our time. We need to be careful not to confuse those who take up our time with the majority of our class. And, yes, even the bright ones will space out in class at times, especially when we need to take extra time to bring the others up to speed.
Where do you weigh in?
Turning the tables now to teaching professional, here’s another controversial topic for you: are colleges and universities unnecessary middlemen? There are a number of services out there that allow professors and “experts” to teach online courses for a fee (Udemy and Professor Direct, as examples). The business model can be attractive for tech-savvy and charismatic professors, functioning either as a lucrative supplement to salary or as a semi-retirement option.
Dan Gryboski is a professor at the University of Colorado, while also teaching two courses via Professor Direct. He believes these opportunities are non-competitive and quite complementary: “You'll have very expensive high-touch, high-cost courses. You'll have low-touch, low-cost courses. You'll have everything in between”.
Correlation does not necessarily yield Causation. Good marketers know this – as do our friends in research.
Author: Meredith Singer is Head of Ops & Co-Creative at Verge Pipe Media. Verge Pipe Media assists public institutions, enterprises and the non-profit sector with Imaginative Inbound Marketing strategies + campaigns. We also have a development team chock full of Marvelous Mobile Migrators, poised to help transition our clients into a mobile + social world with custom software, iOS and Android mobile apps.