The continuing higher education model

Hmmm.  Everything old is new again. Those of us in continuing higher education have long been doing many of the things that the Chronicle's Kevin Carey advocates in a recent opinion piece.  We've been the first to adopt new technologies and teaching strategies.  We've argued with accrediting agencies about electronic libraries.  And our off-campus centers operate in the no-frills fashion described below. 

Which leads to a second thought.  I've often wondered what our fates would be if colleges and universities truly transformed into nimble, responsive, student-centered institutions.  In other words, became more like continuing education units.  Would we be out of a job?  Would we go the way of Deans of Women?  Fortunately for our profession, higher education moves so slowly that nothing is imminent.  But the recession has speeded things up....

The Case for Building New Public Universities - Brainstorm - The Chronicle of Higher Education:
They're doing a lot of interesting things at UMR. . . . There are no academic departments and every undergraduate (the first class matriculated a year ago) is pursuing a B.S. in health sciences. Professors from the humanities and the sciences coordinate their curricula on a week-by-week basis, so a student might synthesize a compound like creatine in chemistry, design an experiment examining its effect on muscle fatigue in biology, debate the ethics of performance-enhancing drugs in philosophy, learn how to interpret clinical-trial data in statistics, and combine all of those perspectives in writing.

Student assignments and work are all captured digitally and fed into a database that faculty will use to analyze teaching practices. This isn't optional: Tenure at UMR will be based on success in teaching, research in the field, and research about teaching. The facilities are brand new and the classes of 20 to 25 students often include a tenure-track professor, a postdoc, and a student-success coach. Students also have access to staff and facilities at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, which is two blocks away.

It's obviously a much better educational environment than most undergraduates receive. Yet once UMR ramps up enrollment to a few thousand students, it will be the cheapest public university in Minnesota on a per-student basis. The whole thing is run on a one-time $6 million increase to the University of Minnesota's annual budget. The marginal cost of expansion all comes from tuition.

That's because UMR doesn't spend any money on stuff like student housing, sports teams, theaters, gymnasiums, libraries, and other expensive things that tend to accumulate at older universities over the years. In the article, I note that when when nearby Winona State University decided it needed a new library a few years ago, it spent $18-million on a brand-new building staffed by 17 people and filled with 220,000 books. UMR hired one librarian and installed wi-fi in a room full of comfortable chairs.


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