Musings for 2011

Musings for 2011.

One of the great things about extended breaks is that you have a chance to catch up on all those things you intended to read, and if you are really lucky you take the time to ponder what is on the horizon.  Here are Shaeffer’s three things to watch for 2011.

-Moving from discipline-based to problem-based….

To attack the major issues facing society and our higher education institutions, e.g., healthcare, sustainability, etc. we must take a multi/cross disciplinary approach.  Mark Taylor in his New York Times op-ed piece, The end of higher education as we know it ( makes a compelling argument that we must move from discipline-based departments and discipline-based degree programs to problem-based departments and programs, or as he indicates we may suffer the same fate of the American auto industry.  Michael Crow, President of Arizona State has attempted to break down the discipline-based departments in creating colleges that cut across disciplinary boundaries.  (

It will be interesting to see how much movement we see in 2011 towards things like problem-based research, departments, colleges, and degrees.

-Design it yourself….

There are going opportunities for students to do what Anya Kamenetz calls DIY U: Do-It-Yourself University (DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the coming transformation of higher education, Kamenetz, Anya 2010).  One of the emerging proponents and avenues for doing it yourself is Straigterline which claims to make your college degree more affordable.  The reason that I see “design it yourself” as something to watch is due to three recent announcements related to Straighterline.  First, if you’ve been watching the growth of Straighterline, one of things that jumps out is the growing number of partner colleges they have who are accepting Straighterline courses in transfer, which also means that these courses may be transferred from a partner institution to other institutions in which a student may enroll.  Second, the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT) recently approved nine Straighterline college courses for college credit.  Third, Straighterline courses were reviewed and authorized by the College Board as AP courses.

I am not judging the quality of these courses, rather what I find interesting is the way that organizations like Straighterline are providing alternatives not only in terms of the courses they offer but also the unique costing structure they’ve created.  Thus, this is something that should be watched in 2011.

-Balance of access and accountability

In 2010 and earlier, several initiatives emerged related to increasing the number of people obtaining post-secondary degrees, including Obama’s goals of restoring the U.S. position in higher education, as well as several similar efforts at the national level.  In response efforts have been initiated primarily at the state level, for example the Lumina Foundation has supported state initiatives.

While I believe these efforts are right minded and I believe that making higher education accessible is the key to developing a highly skilled workforce, I think the thing to watch for in 2011 is the balance between creating greater accessibility while still taking the appropriate steps in assuring the quality of the programs.  Two other challenges are watching to see if the programs that are accessible are a match with the skills/knowledge needed in the workplace and to actually measure the true impact a “degree” has on successful employability.

Clearly there are a number of important items we should and will be watching in 2011, but for now Shaeffer’s musing for 2011.

Happy New Year and as one of my colleagues said:  Roll on 2011.

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