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Do we want management consultants messing with Higher Education?

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From a report by McKinsey (website):

The United States needs more college graduates. Opinions vary on exactly how many, but McKinsey estimates that the nation will need an additional one million each year by 2020 to sustain its economic health. That would mean increasing today’s annual total— 2.5 million—by 40 percent…

To meet this goal, universities and colleges would have to increase their output of graduates by 3.5 percent a year over the next decade. That’s a daunting task…

To meet the target without spending more, colleges would simultaneously have to attract additional students, increase the proportion of them who complete a degree, and keep a tight lid on costs. Gaming the target by lowering the quality of the education or granting access only to the best-prepared students obviously wouldn’t count. Not surprisingly, many people within and beyond higher education say that colleges can’t possibly do all these things at once.

But McKinsey research suggests that many already are, using tactics others could emulate. In fact, the potential to increase productivity across the varied spectrum of US higher education appears to be so great that, with the right policy support, one million more graduates a year by 2020, at today’s spending levels, begins to look eminently feasible. The quality of education and access to it could both improve at the same time.

Ok, I get it.  The US needs more college graduates.  But do we want a bunch of management consultants getting their hands on higher education?  When I read the McKinsey report  it seems to me that “college graduate” now means a vocational education and that the desired productivity will be achieved by turning higher education into a factory process.  It is an example of “Greater Taylorism” applied to higher education.  (read about Taylor and scientific management)

This caught my eye… the elimination of educational “waste”.  A sort of “lean manufacturing” approach to higher education.

Reducing nonproductive credits

Up to 10 percent of all credits taken by US students are in excess of the number required to graduate. True, such credits may expand students’ minds, but they add cost to a degree. Tracking students’ progress and skillfully intervening when necessary can help reduce that cost. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), for instance, has a monitoring system that discourages students from embarking on redundant credits altogether: no bachelor’s graduate at SNHU completes more than 150 credits en route to a degree, while 20 percent of graduates at similar institutions have upward of 150. Better preparation for college work and a policy of allowing transfer students to conserve credits help reduce redundant credits too.

“True, such credits may expand students’ minds, but they add cost to a degree…”  And colleges will “monitor” and “skillfully intervene” to stop such waste.  There will be no intellectual “mind expansion” beyond what is required by the corporate market demand for labor at any point in time.  What year is this?

When I read the quoted paragraph above I thought of the 1984 Apple commercial created by Chiat/Day.  The US may need more “college graduates” but what is the nature of these college graduates?  What McKinsey may have in mind is education understood as a lean manufacturing factory stamping out undifferentiated marching armies of  “college graduates”  fabricated to uniform specifications (there will be no “unproductive credits”).  This will not lead to what  the US really needs most.  And that is people who can think out of the box (beyond the specification) in innovative, creative, and insightful ways.  This will not be a capability produced or enhanced by a factory education.

Would McKinsey hire a person with a factory-made education? – doubtful.  Can you win in a competitive job market if you can’t differentiate yourself from the other job candidates?  What happens, over time, when your factory-made education is no longer relevant to the job market?  Do you go back to get “re-fitted” or does a person fresh off the education assembly line take your place and you are placed on the trash heap?   Do companies hire people who are merely average?  Why be average if you can be remarkable?

Sometimes a person hurling a hammer is necessary.  Be that person.

Resources

Read the full McKinsey Report – Boosting productivity in US higher education
https://frrl.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/boostingproductivity_inhighereducation.pdf

Steve Jobs commencement speech at Stanford University
https://frrl.wordpress.com/2010/01/25/steve-jobs-apple-ceo-how-to-live-before-you-die/

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Written by frrl

April 28, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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