Liberal arts education is unique in its ability to develop independence of thought, to nurture wisdom, and to build both a deep empathy for others and broad context for decision making in uncertain situations.

— Gunnar Counselman


8 steps to 7 billion liberal arts degrees — from ecampusnews.com by Gunnar Counselman, the founder/CEO of Fidelis Education, a Learning Relationship Management (LRM) System.

Excerpt (emphasis DSC):

So being on the offensive about the liberal arts means reframing the conversation from a defense for the 40M people who participate in it today. Being on offensive means abandoning all tendency toward Ludditism and instead getting creative about using technology to scale effective learning in the liberal arts and pure sciences to the other 99.6 percent of people on the planet. And being on the offensive means we must stop worrying about jobs. There will be many more jobs educating 99.6 percent of the world’s population than there are educating the .4 percent (the percentage of the world population currently receiving a liberal arts degree), no matter how efficient we become with technology.

Let’s observe the ingredients of liberal education as they are today at places like Middlebury, Smith, Sarah Lawrence, and Union, honors programs at state universities, then imagine what it would look like scaled to 7 billion people.

This analysis makes it clear that liberal education is a relationship-generation machine built around personalized content. So our technology has to be a relationship-management machine, purpose-built to make sure that every single person in a learning community has peers, mentors, and advisors to collaborate to build strong learning pathways of content.


From DSC:
Though Gunnar likely has his LMS-influenced lenses on while sharing his thoughts here (as I often have my tech-tinted lenses/perspectives on as well), he still makes some valid points.  Those who support the liberal arts need “to stop hunkering down in a defensive posture. It’s time to go on the offensive…” he asserts.  I would second his thought that we need to creatively employ technology to help the liberal arts thrive in the 21st century.

In fact, I’m beginning to wonder more and more if online/digitally-based learning will turn out to be the very thing that saves the liberal arts as we make our way through the 21st century.  Getting a liberal arts degree at $5K a year is one thing.  Getting it at a price tag of $25K-$50+K per year is another thing.  When prices rise like that, expectations change.  The expectations of a solid ROI come to mind much more as the prices increase (and I would even use the word requirements for many of us now, not just expectations). 

If we want the liberal arts to continue to exist outside the top 5% of the income earners out there, we must find ways to bring the prices down again. The best way I know to do that is to go online — at least in part.  Setting up a new server or asking one’s vendor(s) to allocate more storage, bandwidth, applications, user accounts, etc. is far cheaper than maintaining physical campuses or developing new buildings on campuses across the land.  And you can still have excellent relationships, interactions, and communications via online/digitally-based means.

Also see:


Trend: Campuses moving from online to On-Demand — from ecampusnews.com by Meris Stansbury
Management expert discusses why the future for college campuses is on-demand, not just online

Excerpt (emphasis DSC):

IT experts are calling it a super storm of forces that’s changing the way a campus ecosystem operates.

First, the very foundation of student expectations is changing, with requirements for education delivery models that are more flexible and accessible than those of generations past.

Second, the higher-ed market—thanks to the economy and possibilities available via technology—is reshaping itself under new requirements for competition, delivery, funding, and outcomes.

And it’s this super storm, say experts, that’s creating the need for new business processes and strategies to better compete and retain students.







From DSC:
I don’t have data to back this up, but I also have it that student expectations are changing. (It would be great if someone out there who has some resources in this regard would post some links to such resources in the comments section.)  Anecdotally, the students’ expectations of today are different from when I attended college years ago. We didn’t have the Internet back then; we didn’t have personal computing devices such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops; we didn’t work collaboratively; there were no online-based courses; we didn’t have nearly as many choices for learning at our disposal.

But taking cues from society at large and from the trends in computing, people want to connect and they want to do so on their terms — i.e., when it fits into their schedules. So I can see this sort of phenomenon picking up steam, at least for a significant subset of learners out there. In fact, it’s an underlying assumption I have in my Learning from the Living [Class] Room vision. Many of us will seek out training/education-on-demand types of resources throughout our careers — as we need them. Heutagogy, lifelong learning, and rhizomatic learning come to mind; so does the growth of Lynda.com and the growth of bootcamps/accelerated learning programs (such as flatironschool.com).

Finally, the concept of “learning hubs” is interesting in this regard, whereby a group of learners get together in a physical setting, but tap into online-based resources to help them learn about a topic/discipline.  Those online-based resources could be synchronous or asynchronous. But learners come together when it works into their schedules.



Finding New Business Models in Unsettled Times — from Educause.com by Paul J. LeBlanc
If the core crisis in higher education is one of sustainability, being focused on the job to be done and having a grasp of the forces shaping higher education gives institutional leaders a new way to think about recasting their future.


“What to do?” is the question that so many college and university presidents struggle with right now. We seem to be sitting at the heart of a perfect storm where a lot of things are happening faster than our ability to predict and strategize. We can respond to this stormy weather as medieval farmers did to the next day’s weather: by simply waiting to see what arrives and then taking action, often inadequately. Or we can recognize that we actually have the tools, the technology, and the know-how to reinvent U.S. higher education in ways that will address its current failings.

Those established entities that survive are able to harness the innovations and rethink their business models to better serve their customers. Those that eventually disappear typically adopted one of two strategies: (1) hunker down and hope to ride out the storm by doing more of the same; or (2) try a little of everything. Neither strategy works very well, and as a result, once-great and seemingly unassailable companies have disappeared or, at best, survived as mere shadows of themselves. That’s the scenario that many current critics of traditional higher education posit and even welcome, often pointing to other industries that have seen enormous disruption—music, publishing, journalism, and retailing—to presage the impending doom for traditional higher education.

But there is no one higher education to reinvent, and colleges and universities do no one job. Higher education encompasses the following purposes:

  • A coming-of-age higher education that meets the needs of recent high school graduates, usually providing a purposeful living/learning community that provides ample opportunities for self-discovery and growing up
  • A workforce-development higher education that focuses on working adults and that provides job and career opportunities while creating a talent pipeline for employers in a local economy
  • A research higher education that seeks to add to the store of human knowledge, creating breakthrough, innovative solutions to a wide range of problems
  • A status higher education that provides a value-added network of peers, as well as access to and maintenance of privilege and social status
  • A civic-good higher education that works to produce a more just and responsible society
  • A cultural-improvement higher education that creates and/or supports the arts and humanities and instills in its graduates the taste and refinement to support and appreciate the arts

The need to reinvent underlying business models is increasingly urgent.


Other items from Educause:

Flexible Option: A Direct-Assessment Competency-Based Education Model
The University of Wisconsin Flexible Option CBE model focuses on assessment rather than credit hours, letting students undertake academic work at their own pace and prove mastery of required knowledge and skills through rigorous assessments.



A Tuition-Free College Degree (EDUCAUSE Review) — by


First, brick-and-mortar institutions have expenses that virtual universities do not. So we don’t need to pass these expenses on to our students. We also don’t need to worry about capacity. There are no limits on the number of seats in a virtual university: nobody needs to stand at the back of the lecture hall. In addition, through the use of open educational resources and through the generosity of professors who are willing to make their materials accessible and available for free, our students do not need to buy textbooks. Even professors, the most expensive line in any university balance sheet, come free to our students. More than 3,000 higher education professionals—including presidents, vice chancellors, and academic advisors from top colleges and universities such as NYU, Yale, Berkeley, and Oxford—are on-board to help our students. Finally, we believe in peer-to-peer learning. We use this sound pedagogical model to encourage our students from all over the world to interact and to study together and also to reduce the time required from professors for class assignments.

Five years ago, University of the People was a vision. Today, it is a reality. In February 2014, we were awarded the ultimate academic endorsement of our model: University of the People is now fully accredited. With this accreditation, it is time for us to scale up. We have demonstrated that our model works. I now invite colleges and universities and, even more important, the governments of developing countries to replicate this model to ensure that the gates to higher education will open ever more widely. A new era is coming—an era that will witness the disruption of the current model of higher education, changing the model from one that is a privilege for the few to one that is a basic right, affordable and accessible for all.




Beyond the MOOC Model: Changing Educational Paradigms — by James G. Mazoue
Four trends – MOOC-based degrees, competency-based education, the formalization of learning, and regulatory reform – are shifting educational practice away from core tenets of traditional education, indicating not a transient phenomenon but rather a fundamental change to the status quo.


According to Georgia Tech’s recent survey, initial reviews from the first cohort of OMS CS students are positive: 93 percent recommend the program to others and nearly two-thirds said their experience exceeds their expectations. If data from the OMS CS show that MOOC-based degrees are viable, others will follow with an array of offerings that will compete directly with on-campus programs.

Some may quibble that the $6,600 OMS CS is not modeled on real MOOCs because of its price tag. However, this misses the larger point: namely, that a quality online degree offered at scale for a nominal or greatly reduced cost is a more attractive alternative for many students than an on-campus degree. In deference to purists who might balk at calling a degree program that charges tuition a MOOC, we can call it a MOD (for Massive Online Degree). Whatever we call it, it will be bad news for on-campus degree programs. With competition, we can expect a MOD’s cost to go down; it is not unreasonable to think that it might go down to a negligible amount if cost recovery shifts from charging students for the acquisition of knowledge to a model based on learning assessment and credentialing. In the end, students — if we let them — will be the ones who decide whether a MOD’s value outweighs the additional cost of an on-campus degree.

Far from fading into oblivion, data show that MOOCs are in fact increasing in global popularity.  The case for dismissing MOOCs as an educational alternative, therefore, has yet to be made.




Can disruption save higher education? — from eCampus News by Meris Stansbury

Excerpts (emphasis DSC):

Christensen: “The question now is: ‘Is there something that can’t be displaced within a traditional university’s value offering?'”

However, Christensen outlined three ways traditional colleges and universities, like his own Harvard Business school, could survive into the future:

Focus on professors
[when recruiting faculty]…focus less on their publishing capabilities and expert knowledge of material, and more on their ability to connect to others.

Understand why technology, like online learning, is disruptive.

Don’t try to change from the inside — you will fail.  [Use offsets.]



Is it too late to reinvent our universities? — from forbes.com by Mike Maddock

Excerpt (most emphasis from DSC):

A new survey by Moody’s Investor Service reports that more than 40% of U.S. colleges and universities face stagnant or falling tuition revenue and enrollment.

That’s four in 10!

It isn’t a misprint. For you data heads, let me quote from the news release that accompanied the research report.

Moody’s key findings include net tuition revenue declines at a projected 28% of public and 19% of private universities, with net tuition revenue growth below inflation projected for 44% of public and 42% of private universities and total enrollment declines at nearly half of public and private universities. In our prior survey, 15% of public and 18% of private universities projected net tuition revenue declines.”


From DSC:
Back in February of 2009, I publicly asked whether there was a bubble in higher education (see 2/16/09 entry) — being pretty sure there was one developing even before 2009.




A year or two later, there wasn’t any doubt in my mind that there was a bubble in higher ed.  Then for me, the question became…”Has it popped yet?” 

Fast forward to 2013 and it seems I have my answer.  It’s a definite one; there’s no mistaking it.  The bubble has popped.

For those of us working within higher education, time is no longer on our side. We have been too slow to adapt and not innovative enough with our experiments. If we keep this up, I can’t help but think that the answer to Maddock’s question is a “Yes.” 

But we can change. We need to be willing to experiment, innovate, fail, pivot, try things again.  It would be good to model this for our students — as most likely, many of them are going to be doing this sort of thing throughout their lifetimes.


Along these lines…this addendum concerns me:


Higher education is headed for a shakeout, analysts warn — from hechingerreport.org by Jon Marcus

Excerpt (emphasis DSC):

“A growing percentage of our colleges and universities are in real financial trouble,” the financial consulting firm Bain & Company concluded in a reportone-third of them, to be exact, according to Bain, which found that these institutions’ operating costs are rising faster than revenues and investment returns can cover them.

That’s because, as enrollments decline and families become more sensitive to price, colleges are cutting deeply into their revenue by giving discounts to attract students. The result is that, even though their sticker prices seem to be ballooning faster than the inflation rate, many of these schools are falling further and further behind.


Also see:



Daniel S. Christian - Think Virtual -- April 2012


No surprise: Accrediting agency opts to stunt innovation — from disruptingclass.mhprofessional.com by Clayton Christensen


Several years ago I offered words of praise when Tiffin College partnered with Altius Education to create Ivy Bridge College, a two-year online institution dedicated to providing an affordable higher education option that boosted the transfer rate of two-year students to four-year institutions.

The Higher Learning Commission (HLC), the accrediting body for the North Central region and thus this partnership because Tiffin College is located in an Ohio city that was once populated with industry, agreed strongly, as in 2010 it approved continuing accreditation for Tiffin University and Ivy Bridge College through 2020. At the time, the HLC lauded the partnership.

In the last few weeks, everything changed.


From DSC:
What needs to be done to force accreditation bodies to change who can be on these accreditation teams?  Why is it that the people that institutions of higher education claim to serve can’t be on such boards?  i.e. one must be an “insider” to the higher education industry, but not an “outsider?”

Pursuing the current status quo may have a serious backfiring effect when alternatives present themselves.  In fact, taking steps to insure the status quo only serves to put more energy behind MOOCs and puts yet more heat in higher ed’s kitchen.  I would hope that folks inside higher ed would take the steps to allow for more experimentation and innovation and to take some heat out of the kitchen.



The key, he added, was to try to avoid mistakes like those made by the music industry on its road to iTunes. “This is a Napster moment for education,” he said. “It’s a big opportunity and an existential threat.”

— from A “Napster Moment” in Education


‘Shake Up’ for Higher Ed — from insidehighered.com by Scott Jaschik


President Obama vowed Wednesday that he would soon unveil a plan to promote significant reform in higher education — with an emphasis on controlling what colleges charge students and families.

“[I]n the coming months, I will lay out an aggressive strategy to shake up the system, tackle rising costs, and improve value for middle-class students and their families. It is critical that we make sure that college is affordable for every single American who’s willing to work for it,” said Obama, in a speech at Knox College.

“Families and taxpayers can’t just keep paying more and more and more into an undisciplined system where costs just keep on going up and up and up. We’ll never have enough loan money, we’ll never have enough grant money, to keep up with costs that are going up 5, 6, 7 percent a year. We’ve got to get more out of what we pay for,” Obama said.

From DSC:
At a $175 billion per year support for postsecondary education, if the Federal Government starts redirecting this flow of $$$…I’ll bet we’ll see some change…and rather quickly I might add. 

The Walmart of Education (as predicted back in December 2008) is now here, but I don’t think we’ve seen anything yet. To what will we change? At least one major piece of the answer to that question is that we will see the continued — but increasing — use of teams of specialists that will be commissioned to create low-cost, highly-engaging content. Though expensive to create originally, such teams will more than make their money back because of the massive number of students such “courses” will serve.


From the Walmart of Education page on 4/11/09:

…I wanted to offer another idea that might help fund engaging, multimedia-based, online-based learning materials:
(NOTE: The figures I use are not accurate, but rather, they are used for illustration purposes only.)

Let’s reallocate funds towards course development, and then let’s leverage those learning materials throughout the world!

Reallocate funds to course development, and bring costs WAAAAYYYY down and ACCESS WAAAYYY  UP!


For students: Bring costs waaaayyyyy down and access waaayyy up!

Plus, no more defaulted loans, students could experience richer content, students wouldn’t have to wait as much on financial aid decisions. There would be fewer financial aid headaches; and the resources devoted to figuring out & processing financial aid could be reduced. The issue will be how an institution can differentiate itself in such a new world…but that issue will have to be dealt with in the future anyway.






From DSC:
When I see this type of graphic, I can:


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