American Higher Education Is Diverse But Not Differentiated
Plus, More on Meritocracy and Beating the Teacher Shortage
“Higher education is diverse but not differentiated.”
So said Northeastern University’s President Joseph Aoun before a crowd at Northeastern University, on the first stop of the Future U. Campus Tour.
In our fifth year of our Future U. podcast, Jeff Selingo and I launched the Campus Tour with the generous support of Salesforce.org. Our first stop was Northeastern University, where we spoke not just with Aoun, but also Northeastern’s Provost David Madigan; Marilyn Minus, a professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering; Breanna McClarey, a political science and criminal justice double major who is set to graduate in 2023; and Jason Belland, a vice president at Salesforce.
You can listen to the audio—or watch the event—here, from which I took three things.
First, all the panelists spoke about the importance of and clamoring for human connectedness. As Belland said, “Belonging really is the new competitive battleground,” for higher education.
Second, Minus spoke about how much she and her colleagues were able to stay energized during COVID despite increased work hours and a lot of stress. A key enabler of that was the recognition they received for their efforts. There’s a lot of research showing that receiving recognition is important for motivating employees—and it’s one that probably doesn’t happen nearly enough across college campuses.
Finally, Aoun’s observation that higher education is diversified but not differentiated nearly enough strikes me as spot on. For institutions to thrive in the upcoming years, differentiating themselves and creating real value for students and their stakeholders will be more and more important.
Meritocracy and Selective College Admissions
This last point bleeds right into the topic of our latest Class Disrupted podcast—the third on meritocracy and education.
In this episode, Diane Tavenner and I dispelled some myths around selective college admissions, dissected whether they are in fact “meritocratic,” and offered what we see as a path forward that could benefit both institutions and students.
One of the key points? We spend a lot of time telling high school students to try to find the institution that is the right fit for them, but the reality is, a lot of the institutions are… you guessed it, pretty undifferentiated. So it’s often hard to know what to do with that advice as a student. Enter things like college rankings.
Were schools to better differentiate themselves, they could create more room for students to intentionally differentiate and cultivate their unique blend of passions as opposed to running in a race to be the best against a narrow set of metrics. Check out the full episode here.
Teacher shortages are mounting in certain districts and in certain subjects.
Across 100 large urban districts, 61 report instructional staffing shortages, according to the Center for Reinventing Public Education.
A lack of substitutes and a long decline in the pipeline of new teachers are making it harder for schools to cope. The ratio of hires to job openings in the education sector is at a new low of 0.57, according to the National Education Association.
The solutions for these woes have fixated on pay and retention bonuses.
But in my latest piece for the New York Sun, I argue that education has neglected the vast research around what motivates employees. Doing so would suggest we structure the education profession in a very different way to create a more motivated, sustainable teaching force that helps all students succeed. You can read the piece here.
Remembering Clayton Christensen
Clay Christensen would have turned 70 earlier this month. Investor’s Business Daily published a nice piece about his impact on innovation with remembrances from me, his son Matt, and Karen Dillon. I recommend the piece here.
As always, thank you for reading, writing, and listening.