The Transformation of the University in a Sharing Economy II

It is recognized that a campus is a “community” where networks are established and other externalities accrue to those who matriculate and enter the Ivory Tower. On the other hand, the rise in competency-based programs, where students are increasingly required to exhibit mastery of materials beyond articulating what they can recall from their text materials and faculty presentations, mitigates or tempers the ability to leverage social networks against demonstrable skills.

Yet, in 2015 United States universities received 1.2 billion dollars directly in support of campus athletics at a time when the core of the university, its research and education functions not only are under funded but are even being defunded. Costs are rising for the academic core and many students are being obligated to assume significant and unforgiveable debt to complete academic certifications, often in areas where the fiscal compensation makes the ability to repay onerous. As Hamlet says in the eponymous Shakespearean play, “The time is out of joint.”

While the irony is seen and the pain is felt, it may be time to reflect, or as Wordsworth said in his “Ode to Immortality”, “ We will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind”. In the Christensen model of disruptive innovation, the present industry tends to want to preserve its past while the nascent disruptive alternatives struggle to come into being. And thus it is with the Ivory Tower. This does not signal the demise of the past/present but rather the present evolves as it adopts and adapts to the emergent.

For example, when MOOC’s (Massive Online Open Access Courses) appeared, they rapidly emerged in academia in a variety of manifestations under the rubric of “blended learning” where the traditional lecture/discussion model revitalized itself by the use of communication technology to delivery the didactic portion while traditional professors created face-to-face sessions elevated above those normally provided by teaching assistants. This also coupled with “competency” based certification allowed students to demonstrate mastery at their own pace. The flexibility allowed students better options for learning and faculty the ability to respond to differing levels of student needs.

While there exists arguments on costs or long-term benefits, what is clear is that the core model has and will continue to evolve much as the first automobiles when confronting traditional horse drawn vehicles. It is also clear that for many, both students and the institutions, that there are fiscal and temporal benefits. For many colleges, the effective use of the capitalized infrastructure can and will undergo changes from classrooms to faculty offices and concomitant infrastructure.

Closely coupled with this restructuring is the emphasis on engagement with the environment external to the Tower, be it local or international or be it with the public or private sectors. It also is emergent with the increased ability to seek the best venue to acquire such knowledge or demonstrate proficiency. That can mean the collection of certificates or credits from many different, but mutually acceptable, sources or experiences or by problem solving in local or international settings. Cross-institutional acceptance of such work is now becoming more common. The “home” institution, as keeper of such records now has a much different and potentially enhanced roll. And there is more flexibility to concentrate on selected capabilities rather than trying to maintain “excellence” in all areas, particularly under an evolving and transformational post secondary milieu.

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