As a campus CIO with roughly forty years in higher education and thirty of those years in teaching, I totally agree with you. What you have outlined as the system that you would find more productive is generally obvious to many, if not most, people in higher education. Getting those people, particularly in administrative world of higher education to openly admit that is another matter. But efforts are being made.
Higher education in the US particularly is a very large ship that is still underway but has been taking on water for years and is leaking oil. I’m using this analogy to focus on the anachronistic nature of the vessel. It was designed to operate in a petrochemical world with one hundred fifty year old hardware. For the last thirty years or so we have been struggling to tack on new systems and new technology at an ever faster rate. The ship has been underway the whole time and that makes for some very awkward changes. Needless to say most of the crew were hired on in a different age with the agreement that, as senior crew, they would continue to do exactly what they want. And the captain needs to ask them if they want to change.
Ah, but there is more. A growing percentage of the folks crewing this behemoth are becoming desperate to change because the passengers are not signing on in the required numbers and have a growing habit of getting off at the first port and not getting back on. But the owners have been convinced that they should not invest anymore in this ship because who wants to be accused of throwing good money after bad? And the rules of the higher education seas are set by independent, political accrediting agencies who are required to ensure rigor and core standard compliance or they lose their jobs. The thing they are judged on is the delivery of students from approved institutions that can only be measured by a traditional liberal arts and sciences criteria from the 19th century.
Please understand that most of the people involved have spent years learning what they need to keep all these layers of compliance working and have very little time or energy to tackle the immensity of these problems. And a significant percentage have absolutely no interest in allowing anyone else to change the rules of the game they invested so many years in learning.
So why can’t we fix this damn thing? That is actually a closely related question in the US to how in hell did we end up with an idiot like Trump running the country and a congress filled with people who think they can ignore science if they want to.
Back to the undergraduate frustrations. We are beginning to use large data systems to understand our students and to track them in ways beyond whether someone assigned one of four letter grades to them after sixteen weeks of effort. Much of this is aimed at helping them define educational pathways and stay on them. It isn’t very good yet at helping them build completely new pathways or anticipating when they are going to change, but the effort is there.
The problem of making the educational process flexible and relevant is the thousand point gorilla that is scaring the shit out of everyone. Except, that is, for the folks who insist that it will continue to be ignored until they retire.
I don’t have the answers but I think we are coming to a cusp that will require a major change of direction. Unfortunately state based higher education has money and does not have to change as long as it is supported. Thousands and thousands of jobs say it will be supported. Changing it is a whole different issue.
Here are a couple of things that I don’t think you mentioned. Blockchain credentialing to place educational records under ownership of the individual. This may be the way to break the stranglehold of accreditation by empowering students to innovate their own pathways. Technically we can do this now but the credentials were predominantly degrees from accredited universities. We now actually use a wide range of industry certifications for career choices but those are all over the place. If we could get this together the critical piece would be removed that keeps the old structure standing.
Just a suggestion . . .