Do Colleges Need to Change to Stay Relevant?

It’s not uncommon to ask a recent college graduate what their next step in life will be, and hear them reply with, “move back home and pay off my debt” or “find a job–any job!” As an increasing number of college graduates find themselves back at home with their parents and working jobs they could have obtained out of high school, the value of a college degree has fallen under some serious debate. But these criticisms of higher education have not fallen upon deaf ears. Earlier this month, The Society for College and University Planning held a conference in Chicago with a focus on how colleges and universities can change to be more relevant in today’s society.

Scott Carlson’s article College Planners Discuss How They Push for Change includes the podcast interviews of three individuals who gave speeches at this conference.

Sanford Shugart, the president of Valancia college in Florida, indicates that change is vital for numerous reasons, including the cost of college being an inadequate fit for the current market, and academic results not being as high as they should be. Shugart believes that in order to change college education, change needs to happen within the culture. He identifies the culture as being the millions of decisions made on a daily basis by students, faculty, and staff. Obviously, that’s a pretty major change, but Shugart, having identified the roots of higher education being eight-hundred years old, says it will take a change that scale to counter what is in our history.

Associate Vice President of the University of the Pacific Robert Brodnick, introduces his idea of “design thinking,” a concept that combines analytical thinking and creative thinking to produce a product. His theory is that analytical thinking to solve problems is overrated, and that by using intuition and emotion in all fields, as many of the creative fields already do, change can happen amongst not only college institutions, but corporate America. He says it’s these two areas that will need to change the most for our jobs to stay relevant.

The final podcast, which is an interview with Ira Fink, a college planner, indicates that change needs to happen in the way colleges think about money. Just as airlines increase their rates during the holidays and summer months, and decrease their rates during slow seasons, colleges need to consider how their space is used, and what the cost is for that space, in order to make a profit. He identifies Apple as being a company that can successfully think about their business in this sense, and believes it would be wise for education to consider doing the same.

It’s evident something about college education needs to change, but what that something is exactly can be hard to pin point. Is the educational system broken, or is the job market broken? Does the cost of college need to go down, or do jobs need to pay enough for students to able to afford their debt?


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