Why Higher Education Needs to Be Disrupted

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Can a university be great without a rock-climbing wall? Depends who’s measuring greatness, according to the panelists discussing “What It Means To Be Educated In the 21st Century,” with Harvard Business Review editor Justin Fox at Techonomy 2011 in Tucson, Ariz., this week.

Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd College, says her institution is going great guns: her 750 students, 80 percent of whom are on financial aid to cover the $42,000 annual tuition, are engaged 100 hours a week in learning, no climbing wall necessary. Ángel Cabrera of Thunderbird School of Global Management is less sanguine. “We all say we don’t care about the [U.S. News-style] rankings. And we all lie … Colleges do not compete on educational outcomes,” he says. “We don’t know if a student from Georgetown learns more than a student from Northwestern or Harvey Mudd.” The way to get high rankings is to offer a plush student experience, which drives up tuition costs.

The result, notes Andrew Rosen of Kaplan, Inc., is a costly competition for the third of America’s high school graduates who are all primed to “do college” and who will do fine whichever school they choose. Job studies, however, show America needs fully half its high school graduates to go on and complete college.

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