If I got to press PLAY

Education is getting its day. That is for sure. 

Everyone is talking about education. You included.

My favorite part is watching the private sector roll out plans for reopening. They think they have it all covered. “We will take everyone’s temperature. We will stagger everyone’s arrival. We will make rules in the elevator. We will order in the lunch daily and cover these expenses.” And then they realize that no one is coming, as their employees have kids at home with no school!

So people are scrambling to open school “again.” There can be no open, without schools. 

But some schools can’t do “again” because their foundations were so broken by this pause that all that is left are pieces. People are looking at certain sectors of education and seeing them for what they really were, a rumble of rocks precariously balancing on each other that was in need of restructuring way before the pandemic. And there is no way to build them “again.” We can hardly figure out what piece goes with what now and there are definitely pieces missing (international student tuition that many institutions depend on, etc). 

So now what? What are we to do? Will we rebuild? If we do, what will we build? Will it be a replicate? Or will they take the building materials and create something stronger?

Who decides when we press “play” on education again? 

What if I got to press play?! 

Here is what I would do…

As usual, I believe everything starts with a well-defined problem. Sure I bet you can come up with a zillion problems you see in education. Hey you are in the education business now too, but I believe it all starts with this one.  

The value of a degree in the marketplace is less than the cost of the degree.

3 = 2 + 2

This is a FAILURE. The math doesn’t work. I would even argue it is criminal with real victims.

Education has a purpose.

The purpose of education is to equip the future workforce. To allow a person to flourish in society to have skills to provide a quality of life. The issue is that the current educational system does not reflect the society and economy of the NOW (or even yesterday). Our ivory towers on campuses are a nod to a time when education was not at our fingertips but rather buried deep in the “stacks” of libraries and professor’s minds. Life has changed and so has our needs. Technology has changed the workforce forever (there will be no “again”, many of those jobs in “again” are gone), and our educational system has to pivot to fulfill its purpose.

Not convinced its broken? 

Wages are relatively unchanged, but tuition rises! How does that work? It doesn’t!

One vocation killed by higher education not listening to the world around it is teaching. This is only one of dozens vocations in this place.  Teachers pay the same price for their four-year degree. Same price as the future accountants, psychologists, that they sit next to in class, but will make around 50K for the next 10 years. They can’t even pay back their student loans. They are forced to leave the profession. Hence the teacher shortage in America.

So is anyone on this? Who gets to decide how to move forward as colleges still strain to survive with these tuition prices?! 

I’m not an economist, but I know that is a recipe for bankruptcy.

So press play here. Let’s redesign NOW for a BETTER tomorrow.

STEP #1: Realign education’s purpose to the NOW. 

This may sound obvious but it’s not. The one thing education is really good at is TALKING. We are actually VERY clear on the NOW workforce and have relatively informed opinions on tomorrow. Most futurists, economists, and educators agree that the current and future workforce needs to produce flexible and dynamic thinkers. We anticipate that the future worker will change careers multiple times. We are already seeing this with the millennial generation. Meta skills will play a HUGE role in their success. In addition, retraining will become the norm. Our idea that youth is the only time for schooling, will need to be changed. Education will be continuous throughout a person’s lifetime. 

We will rethink the idea of four-year schools and create schools that are backward designed from their purpose. Some vocations may need 5-year schools, some 1. We will create an education system aligned to the real world in front of us. This will be hard (staffing changes, reeducation of faculty, etc), but the time is NOW. 

STEP #2: Create targeted vocational education schools

I believe that 50% of current higher education settings will go out of business in the next five years (I used to think 10!). In their absence, we will create schools that are aligned to a particular sector’s success and teach the hard skills needed in that sector. Private and public partnerships will be key. What has more value to you? A computer science degree from Harvard or Google? Hmmm…I believe the private sector will enter the education space to help drive the skills they need and can’t find. Yes…its true that most employers complain that they can’t find the skilled labor they need. This future collaboration will allow higher education to be informed by the actual market!! Students will walk out employable. The cost of their degree relative to the value of it. This will FORCE tuition to lower. This does not mean that a liberal arts education that teaches critical thinking is dead, we can do BOTH. Critical thinking is critical. The idea that you can’t teach hard skills that are needed for tomorrow and critical skills are ridiculous and a misguided notion.

STEP# 2.5: GAP YEARS

There is currently a huge gap between high school and college. K-12 is now currently designed to “get you in” to college. They are even graded on this skill. Parents pick schools that get kids into the best colleges, therefore, K-12 schools are driven by this sole purpose. However, if higher education realigns to its purpose, K-12 should follow and prepare kids to make informed decisions onto their next steps.

However, none of this will happen overnight. K-12 in my design will pivot last. Therefore, prior to entering higher education, students will need to have an idea of who they are and have skills to function independently.

However, currently, there is a LARGE gap in life skills of kids entering college. Due to many factors (parenting styles of today, etc), students coming into college are less self-sufficient and have record-high levels of anxiety. They also lack coping skills as many up until this point have depended on others to jump in and solve their issues (hey Tiger moms and dads!). Colleges are poorly equipped to help these students. They were never designed for this purpose and have been failing at addressing the new realities/challenges of their incoming classes. Students end up dropping out and it now takes the average student SIX years to graduate (remember that is 2 more years of student debt to pay).

Students will need the life skills GAP filled to enter the new higher education system. They will need to know how to #adult and how to cope through explicit teaching of those skills. This will help students graduate!

In addition, high school does not currently allow students to interact with the real world. Most students walking into college are not thinking beyond college. Life is full of information on a smartboard they are told to memorize to then regurgitate on a test, to then forget. It is really a game. A game of school. Turns out real life looks nothing like school! Not recognizing that its purpose is related to his/her success in the real world, most students do NOT know what they want to study. Understandably so! RIGHTFULLY SO! They have a limited idea of what the world offers beyond their game of school. Any knowledge of vocations is usually limited to the adults closest to them. In addition, high school offers few opportunities to discover and go in-depth into areas of interest.

ENTER THE GAP YEAR! A year of hard skills, independent living, and vocational exposure.

Oh and it offers this too..

I would recommend America joins the ranks of other cultures and make Gap years the norm. Cultures that embrace Gap years have seen enormous benefits (including to their GDP for those countries that have mandatory service to the country!). Students walk in ready for college and more likely to find success. This is well documented in the US gap students as well. 

So that would be my press play. I would focus on rebuilding higher education and launching bridge programs for our youth to get there.

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