Updated: Aug 26
The United States higher education system does not always produce successful outcomes. This article begins by examining our higher education challenges. We then present a new higher education framework intended to dramatically improve student outcomes. When compared to the existing college system, this reimagined approach enables the “3 Ds” vision:
De-bundles academics from the other typical college amenities
De-leverages by greatly reducing student debt burdens.
Delivers high-quality, technology-enabled, and cost-effective academic services.
This article is presented with the following sections:
Background & Challenges
Higher Ed Reimagined approach
Implementation time and challenges
Appendix - Higher Ed Reimagined framework
1. Background & Challenges
The U.S. higher education system does not always produce successful student outcomes. To understand the risks of today's higher education system, it is important to measure college outcomes based on all those beginning college. If you consider higher ed success metrics [i] based on graduation, loan performance, and employment; less than one-third of American students are graduating and able to gain employment requiring a college education. Even more telling, less than 10% of students, upon graduation, gain college-level employment and are debt-free. At the other end of the spectrum, almost 20% of American students default on a student loan. 40% of students do not graduate. The loans have become progressively larger. These loans are a “Life Anchor,” delaying job change, reducing homeownership, increasing stress, and otherwise discouraging many young people. Government student loan schemes to forebear or provide partial loan forgiveness are temporary bandaids that distract from the root cause.
The point is the more the impairments, the more the risk. The more the risk, the less likely the college investment is to pay off. [ii]
The 2020 pandemic created significant disruption. Colleges are struggling, especially those with a traditional campus model. Approximately 20% of colleges are showing financial stress, and that was based on data before the pandemic started. College financial stress may increase significantly. Beyond, the pandemic, a well-known, longer-term trend may be even more disruptive. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the number of graduating high school students is going to drop significantly. The drop will start in 2025 and persist until 2037. Over that time, some estimates show that high school graduation volume will drop by 500,000 students. [iii] For the higher ed industry, the pandemic is like a menacing “super low tide before the storm” signal. A signal of a disruptive tsunami that is sure to come. This early disruption signals the opportunity to change our higher ed system before the tsunami comes ashore.
2. Higher Ed Reimagined approach
The high level of negative student outcomes, combined with pandemic-induced fiscal stress, and the coming demographic cliff require dramatic change. Our suggested new approach provides a change roadmap.
"Here's the real crisis: every year, over a million students who won't graduate start college. Their failure is foreseeable; high school students with poor grades and low-test scores rarely earn B.A.s. Instead of tempting marginal students with cheap credit, we should bluntly warn them that college is stacked against them."
- Bryan Caplan, George Mason University Economics Professor and author of The Case Against Education
The envisioned new higher education approach will evolve and enhance the current system in meaningful ways:
Dramatically reduces costs by enabling the reusable lecture;
Increases teacher time to focus on helping students;
Allows students to move at their own pace, removes the “Tyranny of the Semester;”
Realigns connection between research and teaching;
Reduces student debt by changing the Student Lending system to focus primarily on academics. Please note Dr. Caplan’s perspective on the “real” crisis;
Makes use of new platform technology to drive economic efficiency and mobility (reduces the need for a physical location.)
Uses platform market concepts to give better visibility to the student regarding teacher and lecturer quality.
At its core, the concept uses an approach called “Flip the classroom” [iv] – In the traditional higher education approach, the professor spends time lecturing to many students, with less time for individual assistance. Homework is assigned as problems to help the student learn the content. Homework may also include tutoring, self-learning, or one-on-one office hours with the professor. This new approach will facilitate “flipping the classroom,” where the teacher assigns a lecture and reading for homework and spends class time tutoring or being available for individualized learning.
“Formal education must change. It needs to be brought into closer alignment with the world as it actually is, into closer harmony with the way human beings actually learn and thrive.”
- Sal Khan, Founder and CEO, Kahn Academy
From a lecturer standpoint, this approach also recognizes that not all teachers are good lecturers and vice versa. It also leverages cost, so individual subject lectures (e.g., Psyc 101) may be taught by a small number of gifted lecturers and reused on digital platforms across all teachers’ colleges. The teachers will be available for individualized consultations and may schedule time as convenient for both the teacher and the student. Also, Research University students or lecturers may also provide the teaching service.
Our Higher Education Reimagined approach is supported by three organizational pillars. The 3 organizational pillars are the Research University, Lecturer, and Teaching College. You will recognize the names and some of the roles, but the new approach dramatically changes the structure and interaction of the roles. Also, digital platforms have been applied in other contexts, like consumer goods (Amazon) and entertainment (NetFlix). The same conceptual platform model is being proposed for higher ed.
Please see the appendix for our Reimagine Higher Education framework. The appendix specifies objectives, descriptions, governance, and funding sources for these 3 pillars. It also describes how the pillars interact.
Scott Galloway, an NYU business professor, author, and entrepreneur believes higher education is ripe for disruption. In his book, Post Corona, From Crisis To Opportunity, he said:
“Scale will allow individual institutions and individual professors to exponentially expand their reach. ..... Lifetime learning, a recurring revenue model, presents an enormous opportunity for universities to take a page from the private sector (Amazon Prime, Netflix) and evolve to a superior business model.”
Student Lending - The new approach includes adapting how Federal student lending is provided today. [v] The student lending change is a key enabler for driving this reimagined framework. The Federal student lending system will be revamped to target the loan funding to only lecturer and academic teaching college costs. [vi] Students may provide funding from other sources, including private lending, grants, scholarships, or other private sources. The Federal Government or related Industry may provide additional sources of funding in the form of scholarships or grants. This student loan funding change will be a catalyst to change the current higher ed system approach. No longer will need-adjusted “blank checks” based on existing institution tuition be issued as federal student loans. While need will still be taken into consideration, loans will be capped based on market-driven lecturer and academic teaching college costs. For students without the means to pay for housing, food, and other necessities while in college, it is expected alternative social safety nets will be available to assist.
“You would think competition would drive down prices. Not in Absurdistan! In this bizarre world, competition causes prices to go up!”
Lecturer and Teaching College Platform marketplace - The "Higher Education Reimagined" framework anticipates using a modern marketplace model like Amazon or Netflix. Both lecturer and teacher services will be marketed on similar marketplace platforms. Utilizing an intuitive choice architecture interface, a student will be able to easily search, filter, and sort to answer relevant questions such as:
Who are the highest-rated lecturers for my class?
Which lecturer was best able to facilitate mastery for my class?
Which lecturer was the most entertaining?
Which lecturer was the least costly?
Who is the highest-rated teacher for my class?
Which teacher was best able to facilitate mastery for my class?
Which teacher has most often taught my class?
Which teacher was most flexible to meet my scheduling needs?
Which teacher was least costly?
The platform technology includes artificial intelligence to make suggestions. Suggestions may include: “Students like you, often choose lecturers or teachers like this.....”
3. Implementation time and challenges
The new approach represents a significant change to the higher ed system. Ideally, it is hoped this change will be implemented and grandfathered over a period of 4-5 years. The grandfathering period is generally aligned with:
The expected undergraduate completion time period and
The U.S. presidential election cycle
Realistically though, the implementation time may take longer, as current participants adapt to this new model. The good news is, students and teachers will be big beneficiaries. Be that as it may, there may still be implementation delays. As such, portions of this framework may be implemented over time. As mentioned earlier, a key catalyst is changing student lending. We should start there.
4. Likely impacts
This section discusses the potential impacts on key higher education participants and related assets. We believe our reimagined approach will greatly benefit society, take advantage of the latest advances in technology and teaching, and improve student outcomes. This section identifies the related system agents and the likely benefits or challenges they may face.
Increase in teachers:
Individuals that wish to focus on teaching students will be in demand. It is likely more accredited teachers will be necessary than exist today.
Increase in teaching colleges:
Teaching-focused colleges will likely increase.
Increase in teaching quality:
The “flipping the classroom” model is intended to take advantage of highly gifted lecturers and maintain a highly focused teaching environment. This is very important: This model enables affordable and wide access to some of the most talented educators on the planet. The student may be self-paced, potentially moving faster or slower as to the need of the individual student. The outcome standard is mastery. Once mastery is demonstrated, the class is considered complete. Some students, may not need teachers. The content delivery from the lecturer may be sufficient to achieve mastery. For those students that may need assistance - smaller student-teacher ratios and a wider, more transparent choice of teachers enable students to receive tailored educational services. The market, as facilitated by the TC Platform, will reveal the students’ demand preferences for the teacher supply.
Increase out of classroom development:
By removing “The Tyranny of the Semester,” time ceases as the operating standard. This allows students to move at an appropriate pace and enables interesting longer-term internships, co-ops, or volunteering opportunities. [vii]
Reduction in lecturers:
The biggest reduction will be in the number of educators identifying as a lecturer. Lecturing will be consolidated into a pool of highly gifted lecture communicators. Feedback from previous students will inform potential future student lecturer clients as to the mastery achievement quality of lecturer content. The market, as facilitated by the Lecturer Platform, will reveal the students’ demand preferences for the lecturer supply. Important to note: By its nature, the lecture service creates business leverage for the lecturer. Over time, the lecturer will likely be able to reuse their lecture service at almost no incremental cost. The only requirement to update a lecture or mastery assessment is based on periodic curriculum changes or accreditation audit compliance requirements from the Research University System.
Reduction in universities focused on research and eligible for federal funding:
This approach requires federally funded research universities to inform curriculum, perform basic research, and other mandated activities. It is anticipated the number of Research Universities needed for this task is less than existing today. Please note: Some private and state universities maintain large endowments. (e.g., Harvard) Endowed universities may co-exist with the new federally funded research university. They may also provide teaching college services within the context of the federal student lending cost model outlined earlier.
Reduction in college-affiliated sports entertainment:
Revenue sports (e.g., basketball and football) – may be viable without federal loan support. It will be based on a private “de-bundled” business decision. The intended decision considers actual profit after all costs (coaches salaries, facilities debt service, scholarships, recruiting, etc.).
Non-revenue sports (all other, soccer, track, wrestling, etc.) – may not be viable unless students are willing to pay the extra costs privately. Unprofitable revenue sports may fall in this category.
(Please note: The NCAA changed rules allowing college athletes to monetize their Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL). This change likely accelerates related college sports disruption consistent with this article. This rule change was prompted by a Supreme Court ruling.)
Reduction in all other traditional college-affiliated activities and services:
This includes clubs, dining, workout facilities, etc. Many of these amenities are available privately. (a student could join a local club in their community, eat off-campus, or join the local gym) Or, some teaching colleges may provide access to these services for an extra fee.
Change how we think about diplomas:
Today, diplomas are issued from colleges and universities. The new approach anticipates diplomas will be issued by the Teacher’s College platform. The platform's responsibility includes tracking class completion and progress toward diploma accreditation requirements. This approach eliminates the need to transfer credits between schools. Rapidly improving blockchain ledger technology makes efficient, broad-based diploma tracking achievable.
Significant reduction in student debt and associated costs:
Given federal debt is only issued for academic activities, students will have lower loan balances and market forces will drive down costs. Also, the consolidation of the lecturer and the reduction of participating Research Universities should reduce costs. Finally, the platforming of Teaching Colleges and Lecturers should create significant competitive pressure to reduce costs.
The United States higher education system does not always work particularly well. When compared to the existing college system, this reimagined approach delivers significant cost savings and significantly reduces the student debt burden. All the while, accreditation standards, market forces, and an improved lecturer and teaching environment will increase quality and improve student outcomes. This new approach transforms the higher ed delivery model along the lines of the “3 Ds.”
De-bundles academics from the other typical college amenities (e.g., dining, sports entertainment, and exercise facilities.)
De-leverages by reducing student debt burdens. The new approach will dramatically decrease our current run-away student loan system, significantly decreasing unnecessary stress and financial burdens.
Delivers high-quality and cost-effective academic services, utilizing available technology and industry partnerships. It allows students and families access to a cost-effective education solution and with the option to add more expensive amenities as they are able or so inclined.
6. Appendix: Reimagine Higher Education framework:
Research University System
Provide basic research and testing in key research segments (“RS”). This will inform the lecturers and will update lecturer content
Train and mentor future researchers (Ph.D. and related degrees)
Set accreditation standards audit to ensure the proper implementation of the accreditation standards.
A small number of RS is generally based on the current university colleges. (e.g., Business, Arts and Letters, Education, Health, Integrated Science and Engineering, Science and Math, Visual and Performing Arts, etc.)
RS may consist of a single organization or multiple organizations. Organization requirements will be determined by the governing board.
RS is responsible for auditing the lecturer and teacher colleges to ensure accreditation standards compliance.
Each RS will have a board consisting of an equal number of related 1) federal government executive branch cabinet members and 2) industry (or industry association) members. One additional board member will come from a related teaching college. The board will oversee research curriculum and accreditation standards (Lecturer, Teaching College, and diploma standards)
Primary funding source: Federal Government in partnership with related industry participants.
Provided lecture content from key research segments
Present content for mass consumption in individual class formats. (eg., Psyc 101)
The individual lecturer focuses on a small number of classes related to the Research Segments
Primary governing standards are based upon:
Lecturer Platform feedback from students or teachers
It is expected the Lecturer platform will administer the assessments and determine mastery (grades). This information will be recorded on the Teaching College platform on behalf of the students.
Primary funding source: Students — as part of a Lecturer platform.
This platform allows students or teachers to choose a lecture most relevant and of appropriate quality. The lecture cost will be market-driven and will consider past student, teacher, and accreditation ratings. A lecturer may be changed as needed.
Provide teaching services for related lectures tailored to individual students. The intent is to enable students to learn at a suitable pace and to facilitate learning based on the lecture.
Individual colleges that provide organization for teachers. It is possible for Teaching Colleges to be sole proprietors or a small number of accredited teachers. The teachers provide one on one (or one to a small number) services to students. This is closely related to tutoring or professor office hours.
Primary governing standards are based upon:
Teaching College feedback from students
It is expected diplomas will be issued once the students master the accreditation required coursework. The diploma will be issued from the teaching platform, not the individual college.
Primary funding source: Students — as part of the Teaching College platform.
This platform allows students to choose a Teaching College most relevant and of appropriate quality. The Teaching College cost will be market-driven and will consider past student and accreditation ratings. Teachers can be changed as needed.
[i] This is based on data provided in the Wall Street Journal article “Calculating the Risk of College,” 12/10/18, and was supported by Pew Research. The author did estimate based on a small number of interpolations when the article data was not available. Also, the author developed the 4 segments observed in the graphic. The following graphic provides the segment data and definitions:
[ii] Hulett, The College Decision: Proceed at your own risk, 2021, The Curiosity Vine
[iii] Hoover, The Demographic Cliff: 5 Findings From New Projections of High-School Graduates, 2020, The Chronicle of Higher Education
[iv] The "Flip The Classroom" approach is outlined by Sal Kahn in his book, The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined. Also the Massive Open Online Courses (or "MOOC") model uses a similar concept. Some MOOCs appear to create lower-cost / low delivery channel canalization delivery models for higher-cost schools. (for example, EdX is a MOOC utilizing content from MIT, Georgetown, Harvard, Cal Berkeley, etc.) These higher-cost schools may utilize the MOOCs to monetize existing content, plus, test and improve educational concepts. This is done with minimal impact to the higher-price campus delivery channels via credential control. That is, class completion on a MOOC generally does not count toward a higher-cost university degree, even though the content is provided by the same higher-cost university.
[v] The U.S Student Lending system has several features creating adverse Higher Education system incentives for system participants. Please see our articles for more information:
Hulett, The College Stoic: The Stoic's Arbitrage and making a great college decision, The Curiosity Vine, 2022
Hulett, The Road To Absurdistan: Student lending psychology and bizarre incentives, The Curiosity Vine, 2022
[vi] Lecturer and academic teaching college costs – only include direct costs for the lecturer, teacher, and related supporting infrastructure. (supporting costs such as Buildings, Technology, and management related to delivering teacher services.) It does not include housing, clubs, sports entertainment, or other costs outside lecturer and teacher direct costs. Permissible costs will also be based on a schedule provided by the Department of Education. The schedule will include permissible costs based on historical averages within allowable cost categories. The schedule will allow for the relevant cost of living adjustments based on regional cost differences.
[vii] Volunteer Marketplaces are becoming more common. For example, LinkedIn has a volunteer marketplace. Also, several startup marketplaces have begun as a result of the pandemic and the cancellation of many internships. It would not surprise me if internship programs themselves become integrated across a marketplace instead of a single company, as 1) talented students desire broader experiences than a single company internship, and 2) companies realize the costs and effectiveness of managing independent internships are better served in a marketplace environment.
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