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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Reframing Education

In Reframing Business, Richard Normann outlines a principled approach to value chains, outsourcing, and restructuring. A key idea is to reframe the whole customer experience in the way IKEA did. He suggests that services thought to be secondary to products, e.g. maintenance and updates should be considered primary. For example, your cell phone is just the physical link to telephone service and is often free.

How should a college education be reframed? The conventional way to think of universities is as academic institutions run by the faculty. However, many consumers of education--the students and their parents--see it differently. They see college as a process that defines one as a member of the upper class with nuances depending on the college. Go to Yale and you're a "made public person" with an motivation and entree to public service or politics. Go to MIT and you're a member of the nerd elite. College is where many find their first spouse. All the learning is useful but not as central as the faculty believes.

Consider some the secondary activities of a college and pretend for a moment that they are primary: athletics, admissions, placement, alumni support, fund-raising, and social life. Might they be delivered differently?

Athletics: Top tier NCAA programs generate significant cash and cache for their institutions. Some believe Boston College's ascent in desirability began with Doug Flutie's famous Hail Mary pass in a bowl game. Carnegie Mellon's previous president, Richard Cyert, once suggested that universities should employ professional athletes and allow them to receive education for free like any other staff member. This would reform a corrupt intercollegiate system that appears to exploit amateur athletes.

Admissions: Being admitted to a top school is a real achievement, and employers sometimes suggest that they are paying for a college's admissions pool, not its education. I was admitted to MIT and Caltech but didn't attend them, so I can't mention them on a resume. Perhaps colleges could sell certificates of admission that would document one's accomplishment. Since so much of college is social, the admissions evaluation might emphasize personality testing over board scores. Admissions officers talk about an applicant's fit with the college's culture, but I've never heard them attempt to use analytic tools like Myers-Briggs surveys or compatibility tools like eHarmony.

Placement: Business schools invest heavily in finding their graduates jobs and are measured by their graduates' starting salaries. Corporations invest a lot in recruiting at all levels. There a many firms that matchmake. Should colleges outsource their placement to independent firms?

Alumni support and Fundraising: Someone suggested that Ivy League colleges are optimized for creating graduates who accumulate riches and then contribute them to the college. My friends who attended such schools often mention their schools, frequently attend alumni functions, and contribute time and money to their colleges. Perhaps, if the students entering are already very wealthy, they needn't be taught many skills. They should be coddled within an inch of their lives, given good food and drink, A's in all their classes, winning sports teams, and a great social experience.

Colleges are conservative and some have been around longer than the nations in which they reside. Not many of these radical ideas will fly.

posted by Jim Morris @ 9:44 PM 

Blogger dasht said...

Re, Doc Cyert and athletics:

4:00 PM  
Blogger don normann said...

The author of "Reframing Business" was the late Richard Normann, not Donald Normann. Sadly he passed away far too young.

10:31 PM  

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