The Real Higher Education Challenge

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion around Higher education and how this is creating student debt at an alarming rate. There are estimates which out student debt in US alone at more than a trillion dollars. The common thinking seems to be to look at ways to reduce the overall cost of delivery of education. MOOC’s seem to be the flavor of the season as they can obviously reduce the cost of delivery by leveraging technology.

However, in my opinion, we are trying to address a symptom and not the root cause. I think that the root cause of the education problem is the reducing relevancy of the education provided in this course, that leads to lack of employment to all.

So, if we really want to disrupt the higher education industry and solve the challenge, we need to find a way to address this issue of relevance to businesses, that without burdening the students with debt and at the same time leverage the current institutions.

My suggestion to solve this would be following:

Higher education needs to be offered in two streams:

  • Full time courses as offered now but with a slight change. Instead of just offering the course, the universities help set up businesses that are being run by the students. The businesses get passed on to every batch of students as the current set of students graduate. This coupled with the classes that they attend in the university can not only prepare them well for their subsequent future in corporates and at the same time provide them an option and experience of starting and running their own businesses. The students can then choose their path as per their individual choices.
  • Offer life long memberships to students, who instead of paying their annual fee and studying, agree to pay a small amount monthly or annually in return of being able to come and attend a short term course (4 to 6 weeks) whenever they want to. This way, the college will continue to get funds to run the university and at the same time people will get to learn whatever is relevant and whenever they need it. This solves all the current set of challenges: Student debt (which will not pile on as the students pay a small fee over long periods of time), funds for universities (as the universities will be able to get the fee from a lot of students who are still not in the college) and the students get to learn what they want to, when they want to, so that their learning is relevant.

Once universities are able to do both of these options in place, they will start to become relevant again. Of course, they can continue to work on reducing the cost of delivery of the courses by using MOOC’s and other technologies as well. These will improve the efficiency of the universities thereby allowing them to survive with lower cash flow than otherwise.

Of course, these are just a couple of ideas. I am sure that if we agree that the most critical area where disruption is sorely needed in the current higher education is in its relevance, then we can come up with a lot more ideas which could be used to solve this challenge.

Whatever we do, we must hurry as I think that time is running out and we need to find a way to address this at the earliest or we might risk loosing some of the most important institutions in the world.

What do you think? Please do share your opinions so that we can continue the discussion.

You can connect with me on twitterlinkedinfacebook or email.

You can also subscribe to my weekly newsletter here.

PS: Dr. Clayton Christensen discusses disruption in higher education