Almost 15 years ago, when I was working as associate dean, my boss often introduced me to groups with the idea that "an associate dean it's just a mouse in training to become a rat. " Every time everyone laughed, and I smiled. Now, as I go from being a dean of Pitt Business to a new adventure, I understand very well what my boss meant, even when I am ashamed of the animal chosen in the analogy. To be the head of a competitive business school in higher education, qualities such as cunning, tenacity, ingenuity and competitiveness are important for any dean or rat. Being as quiet and shy as a mouse simply will not work.
Reflecting on my nine years as a dean and looking to the future, I foresee four major issues affecting business schools and higher education that will merit attention and drive change in the next decade.
First, the focus on business school classifications has grown almost out of control. There are more rankings today than 10 years ago, and schools are dedicating considerable time and resources to meet the demands of the highest ranking entities (Businessweek, Economist, Financial Times, Forbes and US News & World Report). As dean, I have sometimes described classifications as the equivalent of stock prices for business schools, with fluctuations that indicate whether people are bullish or pessimistic about our future. And unfortunately, in that sense, it is not beyond the scope of the possibility that the daily classifications will be published in the future, with the help of social networking platforms.
We live in a world of TripAdvisor where people look for and expect updated assessments of everything. Expectation creates challenges for organizations, since the criteria used by the evaluators vary and the qualifications are misinterpreted by factors beyond the control of an organization (for example, the rating of a hotel can be affected by noise from the street, weather at the time of the visit, the appearance of other guests, etc.), as well as the selective memories of the reviewers and unclear (or poor) writing. In fact, the ratings are so publicized that I was surprised by the recent decision of the Obama administration to eliminate its proposed university classifications. I predict that there will be other organizations that will intervene with new approaches to value business schools, law schools, engineering schools and universities in general. My hope is that its methodology is well conceived and has a purpose, rather than restricted and arbitrary.
While many criticisms of the rankings are valid, the reality is that a school should not focus on factors that it can not control, but on which it can influence. If the classifications reflect student outcomes, such as job placement, satisfaction with teachers and classes, mastery of a subject (for example, the CPA exam), then it makes sense for a school to focus on efforts to boost those factors. In Pitt Business, we found that paying attention to these controllable factors led to improvements in the rankings. In a sense, our response to classifications seems to be the one sought by parents and students. If we become obsessed with the factors associated with student success, we will offer a better value.
Ten years ago, two of my colleagues wrote an academic document that showed that rankings affected turnover among deans. My answer was "thank you, thank you". The finding was not surprising as other studies link sports coaching careers with teams' win / loss records. Of course, the problem with the university ranking is that you only see the preseason survey. Compared schools never "play with each other" during the year. The creation of qualifications linked to specific results and objectives, such as location, student satisfaction, academic quality, high quality faculty, etc., could provide useful information for parents and potential students. Therefore, there is a legitimate place for rankings and rankings, and universities must accept or be overwhelmed by waves that are just above the horizon.
Second, in addition to the importance of classifications, it is equally necessary to consider value versus cost. The notion of value is intuitively understood. Many people are willing to pay much more for a BMW than for a Chevy because they look for something more than a machine that takes them from one place to another. In higher education, value is associated with a variety of intangible factors, as well as with the success results mentioned above. Universities that offer higher value can get a higher price. More importantly, the result for students will be better if they enroll in a university that emphasizes the factors most important to the needs of a particular student. In that sense, the value does not necessarily increase if a university adds more courses online in relation to the offer of more opportunities to master a subject or an activity.
Although I am sure that some universities will become low-priced leaders and excel in that category, most students need universities to emphasize the factors that are crucial to student success. In this sense, in the next decade, I expect a growing discussion about the amount of time that teachers spend in the classroom, since studies have suggested that students of our current generation seek this type of learning and benefit greatly from learning from a leader at the head of the class.
Third, the working structure of the economy has changed dramatically over the last decade and the pace of change is accelerating. Current trends suggest that many entry-level jobs for college graduates (commercial banking, insurance and advertising) are on the way to contraction. This means that universities must accelerate their curricular change cycles to ensure that students are prepared for the jobs of tomorrow. In this sense, it is clear that there will be more discussions about the nature of a "liberal arts" curriculum in the coming years as students and their parents seek reassurance that an investment in college careers will produce professional benefits. Keep in mind that I do not criticize the issues that make up the core of the liberal arts: critical thinking, writing and good communication skills are now more valuable than ever. My point is that universities will need to justify the required curricula, using metrics that might have been ignored in the past.
Fourth, how do we measure the value of a university education? Is it an invaluable transitory experience from youth to maturity, an instrumental activity (ie, the path to a job), or is it something else? ? As long as society sees the university as the American experience consecrated by time equivalent to the "apple pie", the opportunity to generate better results will escape us. While the government grants guaranteed student loans to anyone who attends a school, regardless of the results obtained on average, we are harming students and taxpayers.
One of the most important educational lessons I learned in the last decade is that we do not speak openly and directly in society about how to measure the value of higher education. This is disappointing, especially because the amount of information available on what methods produce solid results for students is limited and education is so important to a person's success. We can do much better.
Education offers hope for a better future; it helps diverse people to unite, nations overcome scarcity and individuals achieve their aspirations. That's why I love the opportunity to be part of the higher education industry and I look forward to continuing my interactions with a world of lifelong learners.
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