This Week's Herman Trend Alert

Leadership in Normal 2.0

  The Herman Trend Alert

January 23, 2002

Metamorphosis of University Education

A college degree is now an educational achievement comparable to what a high school diploma 0nce was. To position oneself for stronger income and opportunity in the future, a university education-or the equivalent-may be necessary. Some suggest 10 years ahead; others say now. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has a goal of getting fifty percent of all young people in his country into higher education by 2010.

Several problems arise. The first is the supply of qualified students. Universities now seek and accept students who have completed college preparatory courses. There are questions about whether students who followed other high school learning curricula can handle the rigors of university experiences. To meet Britain's targets, new routes will emerge combining apprenticeships and employer-provided training with academic programs at colleges and universities. Similar approaches under consideration in the United States and elsewhere seem to be moving in the same direction. More emphasis will be focused on students in their twenties, described as "non-traditional" in the US. These people have gained 5-10 years of work experience before returning to school as full-time or part-time university students.

A second issue is the colleges and universities. These institutions, particularly the faculties, have jealously guarded their standards-for students and for curricula. These dedicated educators will be forced, by social circumstances, to create new courses of instruction---less oriented to theory and more focused on helping people prepare practically for careers that await them.

Who will drive the changes? Educators? Employers? Students? Government? Our view is that impetus will come from all these groups, creating challenges and opportunities for them to somehow collaborate. The solutions-and there will certainly be many-will flow from the need to satisfy all stakeholders.

Expect educators to be bound by tradition, though forward-looking liberals are gaining ground. Employers demanding better preparation of graduates will increase involvement in design and implementation. Students want more individualized learning opportunities. Great Britain is increasing the number of 14-year-olds who give up two school days a week to attend college or gain work experience; US secondary school-college programs are expanding.

Comments from our readers:

Just wanted to respond to the Trend Alert regarding push toward more university education. As a community with a significant manufacturing base, I would have to say the existing push toward getting everyone a university education is already harmful. There are so many good, clean manufacturing jobs that require technological skills but not a university education and training programs for them going unfilled or underfilled now because of the parents' and schools' assumption that a university education is somehow better than a technical one. We need technicians. We need CNC operators and CAD designers. These jobs pay better than many university trained jobs and can be filled after only 1-2 years' training. Not only that, but they serve as the backbone for quality and the R & D so necessary to keep us ahead of the productivity and competition curve.

Linda Hirvonen, Executive Director
Delta County Economic Development Alliance
Escanaba, MI 49829


I have just recently signed up for your Trend Letter and find them stimulating and usually right on. However this installment has missed the mark by ignoring counter trends.

I would have to disagree with your observations and conclusions. As we enter the Information Age, there is an expanding need for highly skilled workers. 50-60% of the jobs needed for our economy our high skill jobs requiring more than a high school degree, but less than a four year degree. According to the League for Innovation in Community Colleges, 25% of CC enrollment nationwide is made up of learners who have a four year degree, but need useful skills for today's economy.

Universities might try to teach more practical applications, but community colleges are already doing it. Besides the Academy is unlikely to change in time to meet the demand for high skill workers, whereas community colleges are already poised to meet the demand. Too much emphasis is placed on a four-year degree. It is a good degree, but it is not for everyone. Probably the most highly prepared workers will have a 4 year degree plus get the needed skills at CCs, but that does not mean that everyone has to have a 4 year degree to compete.

Your conclusions also ignore intense proprietary competition for adult learners, the ubiquity of the Internet and the information it provides. Finally your last point about high school/college programs, these programs were pioneered by and thrive today at CCs. They are known as dual enrolled or concurrent students. Yes, you may see a trend where universities try to adapt, but I do not believe in the end that it will be a successful endeavor. Also, if four year colleges become more like community colleges what will be the impact on the valued Bachelor's in Liberal Arts.

Have a preferred day,

Mark Champion
Institutional Research and Planning
Grand Rapids Community College
Grand Rapids MI 49503

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