Only Radical Thinking Will Make University Education Affordable

This photo taken Sept. 20, 2012 shows a student walking by the chapel at Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Ill. What a difference
This photo taken Sept. 20, 2012 shows a student walking by the chapel at Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Ill. What a difference four years can make. In 2008, college campuses were filled with campaign posters and political rallies _ and frenzy. Remember “Obamamania?” This year, it's difficult to find a college student who's truly excited about the presidential race. (AP Photo/Martha Irvine)

This week, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Steven G. Poskanzer and David R. Anderson, the presidents of Carleton College and St. Olaf College talked "about how these two colleges could work together more closely in areas like the library, the colleges' technology infrastructure, human resources and payroll, and, ultimately, their academic programs." And they did it.

There was criticism that they could've done more... and it's still early. But while this collaboration occurred between smaller universities, isn't there an opportunity for all universities?

The motto of the modern day corporation, as Robert Logan and Louis Stokes wrote ten years ago was "Collaborate to Compete."

The basic idea is to determine your core competencies or strengths and leverage them while finding ways to cooperate with others -- to provide things that must be done but in which your organization has no special talent. The purpose is to make your organization more competitive in the marketplace.

The concept worked and gained widespread acceptance, at least in the corporate world, but this same philosophy seems not to be applied to non-profits, local governments, or the University.

The cost of getting a college degree, for example, is no longer affordable to most young people and more Universities are looking at blended learning -- a form of distant education -- or even at Massively Open Online Courses or MOOCS, as one possible solution. It's true that to accommodate larger student bodies the large lecture hall combined with some online activity makes sense. Indeed, some courses can as easily be taught outside the classroom or lecture hall.

It is a fact that technology has changed what is taught and how material is digested in ways that allow students to get feedback almost instantly -- and to ask questions without the embarrassment of looking stupid in front of one's peers. The cyberschool approach is fast becoming ordinary and acceptable at high schools and colleges in America, Europe and in other developed nations.

But collaboration between Universities really hasn't taken hold.

In the California State University (CSU) system and other state systems there must be similar opportunities to lower the costs and increase efficiency and availability. And, for curriculum too. Each university, for example, has an undergraduate program full of courses that everyone should take in their first two years; and subsequently, courses that are duplicated - -depending on the major -- in each of the 17 universities that are part of the CSU system. Are they each so unique that there cannot be collaboration -- even if they are team-taught? And aren't we able to find ways to have the best faculty use blended learning techniques to all the CSU student body?

Of course we can.

If we really want to be more accessible, more affordable, more efficient at delivering basic college education to more students, we need to ask how we can collaborate, where we can work together, and determine what we can do that is so unique to our university that it becomes our mission.

We must find where we can collaborate... and by doing so, better serve young people in our region, and our country.