Bush and Hunt’s ‘New Higher Education Model’ Falls Short

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

In their joint essay, “New Higher Education Model,” released on 10.6.11 at the Future of State Universities Conference in Dallas, Jeb Bush (former Florida governor) and Jim Hunt (former North Carolina governor) call for a radical shift toward online learning. However, despite the fact that their new model addresses some of the critical problems of the old, it seems to ignore others that may eventually stymie its effectiveness. Thus, their message bears both good and bad news.

First, the bad news. The economic hard times facing colleges and universities aren’t likely to disappear anytime soon: “Rising costs and reduced government funding in the wake of an economic recession have resulted in financial burdens that our state universities have never known before, and it is clear that funding is unlikely to return to pre-recession levels.”

Second, the good news. Bush and Hunt are aware of the netgens. Unlike the yeti, their footprints are real. They describe today’s students as “tech-savvy” and “demanding a high-quality education when, where and how they want it. Today’s students live lives that are divorced from the static, brick-and-mortar reality of institutions built for 19thcentury economic circumstances.” Thus, the new model must embrace online technology: “This new technology-powered business model meets the needs of tech-savvy, far-flung, diverse student populations with minimal investment in infrastructure, since dormitories, laboratories and classrooms are not needed for this model to deliver real results.”

Third, more good news. Citing a 2008 USDE study, they acknowledge that “nontraditional students make up 70 percent of the undergraduate population. Nearly half of them are financially independent; 34 percent work full-time; and 25 percent have dependents of their own.” Today, as we edge toward 2012, the figures for nontraditional students are probably even higher.

Fourth, more bad news: The new technology for online learning is “daunting” for higher ed institutions.

Fifth, even more bad news: To facilitate the new technology model, the two former governors suggest that “the answer is public/private partnerships.” In other words, outsourcing. They say that these “partnerships … allow the university to maintain control of the content, instructional materials, and admissions standards, while leaving the implementation to the experts.”

The problem with this new model is that it is enabling, allowing a large proportion of college administrators and teachers to remain permanently e-dysfunctional. The lure of this partnership model is the promise that educators don’t have to change. They can continue as they always have, business as usual, and leave the “daunting” techie stuff to paid outsiders from the private sector.

In the worst case scenario, the assumption is that old 19th century pedagogy can simply be poured into the new technology and, voilà, we’ll have 21st century pedagogy. But this is wishful thinking, a misuse of the newer technology. Like talking heads in the early days of television, the content for the new medium will be the old medium, and the potential of the new will be lost.

In the best case scenario, the private sector “experts” will be able to work with individual teachers and departments to adapt the old to the new to get the most out of the latest technology. However, this kind of longterm handholding requires outside expertise, innovation, development, and maintenance, and the cost will be extremely high, necessitating huge investments in tech support for instructors.

In both cases, the outcome is not sustainable. The first because it’s ineffective; the second because it’s too costly. In my opinion, the only sustainable solution is to invest in a longterm empowering model that gradually upgrades faculty and administrator expertise in 21st century pedagogical technology. The process might begin with outsourcing, but that dependence will be expected to gradually decrease as the educators gain in confidence and competence.

Sixth, and possibly more bad news: The new model sees technology as a means to save money or spend less. The question remains of how that savings is to be allocated. If it’s used to sustain the brick ‘n’ mortar aspects of college campuses, then change will remain elusive. However, if the “savings” are reinvested in released time for professional e-development, infrastructure upgrades for online learning, and user access to the latest hard- and software, change will have a fighting chance.

Finally, the best news of all is that our leaders are beginning to ask some of the tough questions rather than looking for quick and easy answers. Hopefully, they’ll use this new e-awareness as a stepping stone to dig deeper into the issues of technology-facilitated change for higher ed.

One Response

  1. Jeb Bush is building a platform , for his run to the Presidency, using technology. He has been very thoughtful in his design. This work has been constant. Florida used to be the state with the latest and greatest in technology starting with the Virtual High School, which is an online success.

    For a while in certain counties in Florida, the lottery funds created a
    fund for infusion of technology.

    The FETC conference is at a time in midyear when many of us go to see what Florida has to offer. THen there is the Florida STEM technology Plan.

    Click to access floridaSTEM_strategic_plan_2011.pdf

    Lots of workshops and initiatives from these two in DC. I am never sure if the workshops are sharing with us, or declaring to us. But they do good workshops.

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