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EDUCAUSE Midwest Regional Conference 2007. Summary: School of Athens or Mr. Ford's Factory: IT & the Future of Higher Education

Opening General Session
2007 Midwest Regional Conference
Monday, March 12, 2007
Chicago, Illinois
School of Athens or Mr. Ford's Factory: IT and the Future of Higher Education
Richard N. Katz, Vice President, EDUCAUSE
For a millennium, universities have worked to preserve a highly personal and labor-intensive apprenticeship technique while opening their doors to ever more learners. IT is used to supplement this millennium-old tradition, but what if IT could be used in more daring ways? What might education look like in 2020?
Opening his talk, Richard Katz mused that his remarks might appropriately "comfort the afflicted, and affict the comfortable," and then spoke on social, historical, and philosophical aspects that should inform our work in higher education.

A quick tour of the history of higher education took us to Plato and the birth of the academy in 387 BC.   The first university established in the western world was in Bologna, Italy in the 11th century. Soon thereafter the University of Oxford was established in the 12th century.  In the early days, roving bands of faculty would roam the countryside providing education on demand in exchange for their livelihood. This was the first form of tuition in exchange for learning. An exponential growth in the academy followed and now universities are among the longest living institutions matched only by the Republic of Iceland and the Catholic Church.
In the United States higher education has had pre-eminence status since 1936 and this may be because of the amount of money we spend on higher education which is an engine of social and economic mobility and an engine for the economic development of nations.
Referencing the Spellings’ Report (A TEST OF LEADERSHIP: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education. A Report of the Commission Appointed by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings., Katz indicated that we all know about the gathering storm facing higher education. Currently, higher education has negligible growth, impending enrollment declines, and heightening competition (including “for profits” and global competition outside the United States)
In addition, we face significant workforce challenges and increasing regulatory pressures. Some of us will be retiring in the next 5-10 years and it will be the largest workforce exit in history.   Katz indicated that the circumstances will drive the costs of IT up. Increasing regulatory pressures are currently an un-formed, but threatening cloud.  Indicators can be found in the Spellings’ Report and the earlier National Commission on the Cost of Higher Education report.    
There were about 200 thousand students in higher education at the turn of Century and there were 16 million students in 2007. At the turn of the century most people could not afford to attend higher education. The lack of financial resources was a critical factor keeping higher education for the elite wealthy only. Using 2005 statistics, Katz noted that higher education pays off its cost in the weekly earnings increases that come with having a college degree. Referring back to the notion of US preeminence in higher education, Katz said that the US is very good at global higher education and that, at the moment, we still do the best job of it.
Going back to the history of higher education, Katz talked about the difference in higher education in Plato’s time and today. The key difference is the tension between personalization of the education process versus access to higher education. Plato did not allow writing because he felt it got in the way of learning and discourse was the way to achieve true learning. He saw academia as a craft where one learns from the knees of others; a very personalized mode of education.
However, the early personalized forms of higher education were not working for the middle class or for women. There was a movement towards access to educate those who needed to work for their living. In the US, the Morrill Act of 1862, also known as the Land Grant College Act, was the key to providing access to higher education for US citizens. The first community college opened just after the turn of the century. As our access to higher education increased it has diminished our ability to personalize education for each individual. Access has been added over the years by physically building larger spaces and adding “another row of seats” and now by technology and scalable distance education.
In Plato’s School of Athens a man required proper instruction to become civilized. The Jeffersonian ideal and take on this same thread was that ignorance and bigotry, “like other insanities,” were incapable of self-government, and education was needed to create a people who were capable of self-government.   The bottom line was that education is a civilizing force that is indispensable to the ideals of democracy.
Katz then quoted Henry Ford: “If you think of standardization as the best that you know today, but which is to be improved upon tomorrow, you get somewhere”  The Ford Factory metaphor is about the assembly-line with its focus on efficiency and standardization, scale economy, measurement, throughput, and speed.   There is a focus on narrow outcomes: low error rates, high output equaling productivity. Katz asks if we are trapped by this factory analogy out of our industrial mentality – or if there is another way to proceed towards the higher education we now need in the US. 
He said the issue with standardization and efficiency in our higher education system is that it is replicable – and highly impersonalized to the point of massification versus personalization. It leads to graduates who are capable of doing jobs but not necessarily graduates who can be creative outside “the job.” We live in a world where the labor market is growing significantly but except for those jobs that demand face-to-face service such as nursing, can be standardized and can be off-shored. He asks “How will we be able to create a workforce that can be innovative and creative?”
Katz asked us to think about what happens in the future. What is the future ‘education factory’?  Were do the key elements fit in? Will it be easily replicable? Will it commoditize our graduates? Will it create graduates who can not think? Will we have diploma mills?  He referenced the current debate at Oxford University over the issue of whether or not students have to attend lectures, labs, etc. in their education process there and asked “Is the end point ‘empty classrooms’ and what does that mean?” He asked us to think about the alternatives.
Mentioning the MIT Media lab, Katz asked if we can marshal our all creativity, money, and ideas to show a new way to a sustainable and appropriate model of higher education for the future, and if we can begin to use technology to organize programs for fewer than 200 students. He also asked if the new rich-media environments will find an interesting and durable place in higher education and noted Wikiversity [] as a possible model asking “How can we harness amateurs into the academy?”
Katz’s conclusions
  • Higher Education in the US is a magnificent success.
  • Educational quality and access co-exist uneasily with both broad access and elite (and expensive) education options.
  • But a “storm is gathering” vis-à-vis access, affordability, and accountability:   Can we educate the masses without sacrificing personalization or raising costs?
The real issue is sustainability –
  • Depends on innovation, not imitation
  • Intellectual capital is THE factor of production for the 21st century
  • Learning to learn is essential – learning to lead is paramount
  • What matters is how your frame the issues and the metaphors you choose.
The road to 2020 is a long one ----
From Daedelus Fall 1997, Katz quoted Martin Trow, a pioneer in the study of higher education who noted the transition of higher education from a privilege for the elite to the massification of today. “Information technology is embedded in and used by institutions that have a history. It will cut its own channels, leading to the creation of institutions that differ from those of today; institutions where the weight of history does not condition and constrain its use.” 
And from The Chronicle of Higher Education, quoted Stanley N. Katz, “In Information Technology, don’t mistake a tool for a goal” " is not something that happens to us. It is something we create. ... ….
Q&A Notes:
Should we each write our own script for the future?
Comment: The 2020 reference date in the DVD is too far out ---- all this will happen sooner than 2020.
On the future of textbook middlemen: How long before we can get services from Google and others that we now provide?  
Look at where researchers bid for work.