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Danny’s diagnosis

Danny Ivy of Mirasee just released a video claiming to know what is wrong with our modern education system.

See http://bit.ly/2D9EEwO

His promotional email for this as this attention getting subject line “The 1.9 million dollar scam in education”.

In the video, and the new book he is promoting on this topic, he makes the following statements.

“Higher education is worth nearly 1.9 trillion (yes, trillion) dollars…  

…yet off the top of my head, I can think of a few things wrong with it:

– The rising cost of tuition, which leads to mountains of debt that students take in the hope of a thriving career  

– The flood of college graduates into the job marketplace who carry degrees that aren’t valued by employers

– The lack of graduates who are prepared and qualified to work within their chosen field, while at the same time employers struggle to hire good people

Is this truly worth the time and financial investment?

Or are we experiencing the greatest global scam of our time?”

He then promotes the idea of a consumer driven education system in which involvement by potential buyers during the course creation process is the solution to this “problem”.

I respect him and have followed his ideas on online course creation for a number of years. I think his insights around consumer driven education are profound and useful. I have applied them in my own work when creating on-line courses.

Danny’s perspective on university level education may be too limited

I am a person with experience in our society’s university level and professional education process from 5 points of view.

  1. As a student consuming courses at the undergraduate and post graduate level.
  2. As an instructor delivering courses full time and continuing education university level programs.
  3. As a professional trainer delivering professional development programs to commercial organizational buyers.
  4. As a creator of on-line programs in business management and work place soft skills.
  5. As a consumer of the results of society’s university level educational process who has hired or overseen the hiring of thousand of university educated working professionals.

I think that Danny is fundamentally wrong in both his diagnosis of the problems and his offer of a solution to the current dilemma that he does describe well.

But before we address this, let’s ask some deeper questions about education.

  1. What is the social role of university level education that makes it important enough for governments to expend a significant portion of their public spending on it in almost every advanced or advancing economy?
  2. How is professional education governed today, and what has gone wrong with this governance process, resulting in the “ills” that Danny and his colleagues so eloquently characterize?

Why is university level education so important?

The social role of university level professional education is clear – give individuals the know that, the know how, and the know why that they need to do 2 things.

  1. Support themselves in economies that still largely dependent on wage-based income to redistribute the wealth generated by the collective effort of the individuals in that society.

This is still the case despite the growing imbalances in the redistribution process in the past 5 decades that are now so well documented in the commentaries on the growing gap between the rich and the poor in so many of the world’s economies.

  1. Carry out their work as college educated professional individuals in a way that meets the standards of legal and professional competence that they are expected to meet in today’s complex social world.

Deciding what you need to be able to do to meet these standards must be responsibility of those who are already educated in each profession, who are currently effective practitioners of it. Individuals who are just beginning the professional education process do not have the experience that qualities them to to set these standards, although they may contribute to the dialogue about them.

Each goal is equally important. Effective educational governance needs to find a way to work out a balance between them.

What went wrong with educational governance?

Democratic governments have increasingly become involved in financing education since the Second World War.

Democracy as a system of government is very subject to “organized interest group” influences and pressures. Organized interest groups have a much greater ability to impact politicians and government bureaucrats than individual citizens. Such special interest groups are at work all the time. Individual citizens can only express their influence at election time.

Modern democracies suffer across the board from this influence imbalance failure in almost very aspect of their operation. But the needed solutions are changes to the political process that characterizes democracies, not an easy thing to achieve. These changes must be brought about by currently elected politicians, who have a vested interest in the political status quo that got them elected.

What went wrong with the governance of university level education?

Education governance has been inappropriately impacted by the influence of two very focused, organized education-oriented special interest groups – that of the  facultiy unions and that of the academic administrators who are on the receiving end of government financing.

All the other people who are stakeholders in the social college / university education system have progressively lost the greater part of their ability to impact the structure and the operation of university level education over the last 5 decades. Even the rich families who endow private universities have far less ability to do this today. They have to be largely content with having buildings named after them.

Employers, as part of their continuing drive to increase short term annual profits, have increasingly transferred their work oriented professional education activities to public education institutions. As a result, they have lost much of their ability to impact what is taught in those programs. Witness the growing gap between the skills they need and abilities that the institutions deliver through their educational programs, a gap bemoaned by Danny and many others.

For profit corporations have also transferred much of the cost of doing applied research to universities. As a result, such corporations have lost much of their ability to influence how the professional education needed for doing that research work is being done.

Students have also lost whatever power they once might have had. Despite the effort to create campus specific “teacher review” programs, students are by and large on the bottom end of a power imbalance. Administers and faculty rule academic life. Token student participation in university boards of governors and other academic processes is just that – tokenism.

The only real power students as consumers really had was the ability to pick and to pay the tuition at a specific university. However, the intense competition for places in the so-called top of the line schools has eroded this power. Add to this the constantly increasing cost of tuition and the need for many individual students to borrow to pay for it. As a result of these 2 dynamics, students have been largely disenfranchised in university level education.

Students never really organized themselves into the kind of interest group that could effectively counter balance the power of the 2 education special interest groups: faculty and administrator. Educational administrations have become less and less accountable about the cost of their operations to the individual consumers who make up their student bodies. Faculty have become less and less responsible to ensure that the educational content they deliver is aligned with the skill that student need to appeal to employers.

Technology, which has decreased unit costs in almost all for profit organizations in our societies, has had little to no impact on the unit cost of delivering university level education. Witness the tremendous increase in real tuition costs for the past decades.

The conclusion in straight forward. In the past 5 decades, advanced educational institutions have operated in a way that met the needs of their faculty and administrators first. They have put second, even ignored, the needs and the well being of their consumers – students and employers.

Why Danny’s solution won’t work in the long run?

Essentially, Danny proposes to reverse this power imbalance by creating an on-line education process in which the power of the student consumer dominates. He is correct in seeing this as a way to address the lack of power on the part of students in the current university governance process. But in doing so, he ignores the other goal of society’s university level education systems – to equip individuals with skills, knowledge and value that meets professional standards. Consumers have time and time again demonstrated that their short-term buying decisions are not necessarily aligned with their long term needs.

What is the real long-term solution?

Like most things in modern democracies, fixing a situation that is the result of decades of social dynamics is complicated, perhaps too complicated for us to really fix in a few years.

But we as a society can take some steps to change the dynamics that have led us to the current educational dilemma. Here are some suggestions to consider.

  1. Repower the student educational consumer by turning individual college education from a “institutionally financed one” to a “personally funded process” tied to individual family means. Instead of funding the institutions, fund the students, at least to a great degree than today.

Some European economies have followed some elements of this approach for decades. As a result, they increased the power of the average individual student. These students then can impact the educational process as individuals by where they choose to spend their government provided educational dollars. This increases the power of the average student citizen to influence the professional education process in that society. It forces academic administrator to pay more attention to student needs, instead of focusing on the needs of government educational bureaucrats.

  1. Commit as a society to using modern technology to deliver all the “know that”-factual elements of professional education on an on-line basis.

Use the government’s education intuition certification process to move this level of education from physical colleges and universities to on-line ones which are “NOT” tied to physically based colleges.

  1. Reshape the role of the physically based colleges and universities to provide “know how to” professional education. Distance how to professional education excellence from know that educational excellence.
  2. Decrease the power of the “faculty” unions in universities, learning by eliminating tenure. Today, the need to protect individual professor freedom of expression can be better achieved their access to the Internet than through their participation on union-based bargaining groups that have the power of tenure to shelter individual non-performers.
  3. Make education a “not for investor profit” business by mandating that all education institutions and academic publishing businesses must migrate to a “not for investor profit” model in the next 2 to 3 decades.

Don’t undermine them by taking corporate organization processes away from them. Just make sure they reinvest any financial surplus they create on an annual basis in decreasing their annual operating costs in the future.

Will this work to address Danny’s concerns?

Will these ideas meet all of Danny’s demands for the “re-organization” of education in our society? Probably not. But swinging the educational pendulum to the “all consumer driven” size will do so not either.

Most importantly, turning this dialogue from one undertaken only by the “experts” to one that is broadly shared in society is essential. All the stakeholders in the society’s university level education process need to participate in these exploratory experiments to find out what will really work to address the problems identified by Danny.

  1. The politicians who make the funding decisions.
  2. The government bureaucrats who administer the outcomes of these decisions.
  3. The educational administers who run the institutions which deliver the education.
  4. The professors who deliver the educational content.
  5. The students who consume it and their parents who worry about their futures.
  6. The employers which hire them afterwards.
  7. The professional associations that set the standards of conduct required by professional trained through the university education process.
  8. The consumers who consume the professional services of the professionals who are educated by this process.

The debate about future of university level education, especially in a growing on-line world, is too important to leave only to the “so called” educational professionals, politicians and academic administrators.

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