University Business - September 2012 - (Page 26)

independent outlook Why traditional forms of higher education are often more effective than the new models By Richard Ekman t’s been a surprise to see how eager many college trustees, foundation officers, and government officials are now for the same freedom students and faculty members enjoy on campus to try out new ideas. Many have become enamored with the idea of “disruptive innovation,” drawn from Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma (1997). Arguing that incremental change is often inadequate when organizations face altered circumstances, he asserts that disruptive innovation is the best way to re-position an organization. His main examples relate to hard disk drives and excavators. “Disruptive innovation” quickly became the battle cry of American industry. Since the 2007 financial implosion, the book has been referenced frequently as applicable to colleges. Perhaps pressures from all sides—rising costs, decreased financial support, maturation of new technologies, and the meteoric rise of for-profit education—have made colleges more receptive to unorthodox remedies. Rarely has a concept been as frequently invoked but misapplied as the idea of disruptive innovation in higher education. Every college that missed its annual fund goal, every faculty senate that let curricular reform sputter, and every college with classrooms that aren’t overflowing has been in the crosshairs of trustees, journalists, and government officials who believe disruptive innovation is the instant fix. Foundations have piled on, with grant programs to support only breathtaking innovations, and characterized the status quo ante on campus as wholly unresponsive to change. To listen to many of these earnest outsiders tell it, colleges have neglected lowincome students for 50 years, teach mostly irrelevant subjects, and demand too 26 | September 2012 ‘Disruptive Innovation’ Is No Elixir I The higher attrition rate and longer time-to-degree overwhelm any savings of the nontraditional approach. little from faculty. For-profit education providers critiqued traditional education (we now know, thanks to Senator Tom Harkin, disingenuously) and spent vast sums to market blatantly false claims, but not before the critique became standard fare in media coverage. If journalists can be excused for formulating stories as controversies even when none exist, foundations forgiven for a predisposition to favor disruptive innovation over sustaining excellence, and business leaders who serve as college trustees for over-eagerness to initiate dramatic change, it’s harder to exonerate state and federal officials when they misinterpret or ignore facts and instead adopt the remedy du jour. The inconvenient truth: Higher education in its traditional forms remains educationally more effective for most students than new models. To propose the substitution of a wholly online degree for a campus-based college education—as Texas Governor Rick Perry has done—without clarifying what the online program won’t include misleads young people and their parents to believe the two are equivalent. Yet, when colleges 1) engage students in the learning process through interaction with faculty members and fellow students; 2) require a broad-based program in the liberal arts; and 3) treat activities outside the classroom as purposeful parts of education, students achieve more during college and in their careers, are more involved in their communities, and express a higher degree of satisfaction with the overall quality of the education they received. (See arguments for a new way Advocates of nontraditional approaches sometimes concede that online courses are less effective educationally, but insist that such courses are more cost-effective. This argument, too, is overstated: The presumed price advantage of the nontraditional approach all but disappears because the higher attrition rate and longer time-to-degree overwhelm any savings. Advocates for nontraditional approaches also claim only they reach underserved students. Yet, for students with identical “at risk” factors usually associated with lower degree completion rates, such as low-income and first-generation college-goers, the more successful performance is usually found in traditional institutions (see and Hardly a journalist, foundation officer, or policy official in America has not received incontrovertible statistics on these points from independent researchers and college presidents alike. The unproven remedies nonetheless continue to be prescribed for maladies that are themselves

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of University Business - September 2012

University Business - September 2012
Editor’s Note
College Index
Ad Index
Behind the News
Independent Outlook
Financial Aid
Virtual Viewbooks: Ready? Or Not?
Technology Changes Everything
Connecting Learners, On Campus and Off
The Changing Face of the CIO
Efficiency Greats
The Administrator's Bookshelf
Oceans of Data
Education Innovators
Internet Technology
End Note

University Business - September 2012