5. Other conversations we need to have?

  1. What other conversations do we feel the faculty and board need to be having about how to address these budget concerns?

    For example: How can we carry out our goals of shared governance during a time with looming budget cuts?

    What else?

Author: Dan Ryan

I'm currently an Academic Program Director at MinervaProject.com. I've been a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. I'm driven by the desire to figure out how to teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

5 thoughts on “5. Other conversations we need to have?”

  1. The most glaring omission I have noticed in our discussions is around the potential impact of “free” community college. There's a decent amount of political traction around the idea. If it were to become a reality in California, I predict, we would have a hard time staying in business with our current business model.

    I think we should have some smart heads thinking through what we could/would look like in a world where two years of community college plus transfer to four year institution became a total no-brainer for majority of students in our market.

  2. I agree, we should be paying much more attention to the possibility of CA's offering free community college. It's one reason I believe we should tie our discussion of general education much more explicitly to the IGETC requirements laid out by the UCs and the Cal State system. It's not sexy, but why shouldn't we model ourselves after the public system and tell students in simple and straightforward language that if they take such and such courses and maintain a certain GPA then, yes, you can come to Mills, full stop.

    One might object that more interesting sounding requirements (“Creativity, Innovation, and Experimentation”) attracts traditional age undergrads, but I believe that's false. There are two types of gen ed programs, great books centered curricula (e.g., Columbia and Chicago) and distribution requirement programs. The former are sometimes a deciding factor in a student's selecting a school, but differences among distribution style curricula have, at best, a small, marginal impact on a student's selecting one school over another.

  3. Alas, we could probably have done ourselves multiple favors by doing that – a recruitment favor, a support for CA system favor, building on something existing rather than re-inventing an old wheel favor, and spending the last year plus working on revenue favor.

  4. In the small college context it is easy to think you have a cost problem when really you have a revenue problem.

    Unless you have a royal yacht or a fancy third home, the ratio of effort/pain/negative-impact-on-revenue to things-cut gets more and more unfavorable with each dollar saved.

    The institution needs to better deploy everyone's efforts; more of our hours of effort should be devoted to generating NEW revenue from new students (not more revenue from existing students (or students just like existing students)) than is being devoted to cost savings.

    The relative amounts of time/effort/expertise expended in these two directions tells you a lot about an institution. Changing that ratio is something we can do.

  5. A recent article described what Elon Musk might really be up to with the newest model of the Tesla. In short, the author claimed that neat features on the new model (doors that open as you approach, lots of stowage space, easy access third row seats) have very little to do with being a selling point of this vehicle. Instead, each one is a proof of concept of a technology that will be needed in autonomous vehicles that will replace taxis, ubers, and privately owned and owner driven automobiles. Tesla is just getting ready for the future it plans to make.

    There is a lesson in this for us. Right now there are entities out there who are doing this with respect to higher education. Companies like Pearson would love to turn small liberal arts colleges into franchisees along the model we have with food service and bookstores. So far, our response has been to write essays about the importance of the liberal arts and to heap reassuring praise on ourselves, telling us that we are doing something important.

    What do we do when the alternative IS the liberal arts? Minerva, for example, is a San Francisco based project that offers a highly selective global liberal arts program for about $10k tuition and $10k expenses. Their business model is built around two entities: a non-profit that runs the academic program and a for profit that controls the intellectual property (including how to run a global liberal arts program for $10k). They partnered with Keck Graduate School for the former (never mind that we could have been in that conversation). The business model is that they are building a bunch of tools and practices and they are going to figure out how to make this stuff work and then license it.

    We implicitly know how it works, but we don't know how to do it for $10k real cost. Instead of either figuring that out or at least looking to what ideas we can steal from the likes of Minerva, we direct our efforts at (1) how to reduce costs at twice the price point and (2) expand market share at twice the price point. Which is what all the other incumbents are doing. We somehow imagine that a newish general education system or some more majors like the ones we already have will pry loose market share that has thus far eluded us.

    Incremental improvement and the hunt for endangered species enrollment are not a path to sustainability. Rather than tiny little questions about what courses can we cut this spring, why can't we set ourselves a small moonshot challenge and ask how WE might offer a quality liberal arts education for, say, $10k? We can't keep our eyes on the prize if we never articulate what the prize might look like (and deficit reduction is just not a prize that motivates much real creativity).

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