In short, colleges and universities do not put their students first. That is the point of a recent book by Paul LeBlanc, president of the University of Southern New Hampshire. In Students First: Equity, Access, and Opportunity in Higher Education, LeBlanc explains why our higher-education system so badly underperforms and why we need an educational “ecosystem” in its place.
Before going into the book, it’s important to note that Paul LeBlanc cannot be dismissed as a “right-wing” critic who’s eager to tear down higher education. Besides serving as president of SNHU, he was an advisor to Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell during the Obama administration and is a member of NACIQI, the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity. And the book (published by Harvard Education Press) is sprinkled with reminders that LeBlanc is a liberal in good standing.
Therefore, Students First might gain some traction. Our overwhelmingly progressive cadre of educational policymakers should recognize it as a sincere and well-supported case for change.
Here is LeBlanc’s argument in a nutshell: “Higher education as an industry is in many ways ill-suited to [the] new reality. It is too slow, too rigidly hierarchical and territorial, too hesitant to adopt new technologies and ways of doing things, too inefficient, and too focused on itself. We need a higher education ecosystemthrough which people will move in and out over the course of their careers and lives.”
Exactly what is wrong with higher education?
LeBlanc’s first big point is that it is structured around time rather than learning. College classes and degrees are built upon credit hours and semesters. That’s our tradition. The problem, LeBlanc understands, is that, for many students, those time constraints are a terrible obstacle. Many students have busy, complicated lives that make it difficult for them to fit classes in. The solution is to offer asynchronous learning opportunities.
There is no reason why colleges couldn’t liberate students from the arbitrary confines of credit hours and allow them to learn at their own pace.