Collaboration Can’t Start with Exclusion

Next week I’m attending the annual meeting for the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI).  As part of that I’m participataing in the Leading Academic Transformation (LAT) Roundtable, and we got homework to help us prepare for the session.

All three pieces (one article and two YouTube videos) are by Michael Crow, the President at Arizona State University (ASU).  I really want to discuss two of them:

Innovating Together: Collaboration as a Driving Force to Improve Student Success (from EDUCAUSE Review)

and one of the YouTube videos:

The YouTube video is 10 minutes long, but I think it’s important to watch the whole thing for context.  Here’s what I understand of Michael’s argument (there’s a slide around 6:20 that pretty much sums it up). We need to graduate 480,000 more students every year in the U.S. to meet the demand for undergraduate degrees.  The top 50 liberal arts schools and Ivy league combinded only graduate about 39,000.  Therefore the large public institutions need to increase their output by 25% because only they can scale up to meet the problem.  And to do that they need to collaborate.

Um, OK, but somewhere along the way the 3500+ non-Ivy, non-top 50 liberal arts, non-huge public institutions got left out.  Dr. Crow is advocating for a scaling up that he says can only be accomplished by large public universities.  And that’s an easy conclusion to reach if you ignore the largest portion of the higher education landscape.

As I noted above, Dr. Crow indicates that the only way to fix this issue is for institutions to collaborate, and I agree with that.  But what if we thought about collaboration among all higher educational institutions instead of just a homogenous few?  What if we celebrated the diversity of choice in higher education and addressed the issue by scaling out instead of up?  If 4,000 institutions in the U.S. all graduated 120 more students, we would make the 480,000 mark.  By including everyone in the solution, the problem seems much more managable.  Sure, not every institution can actually graduate 120 more students, but for every one that can only do 30, there will be one that can do 210.

In his EDUCAUSE Review article, Dr. Crow argues that institutions need to stop competing and start collaborating.  But when the model he advocates is based on the premise that the vast majority of the institutions in the U.S. are irrelevant, it’s hard for those of us at those institutions to not treat it as a competitive threat.  Collaboration can’t start with exclusion.  It has to begin with the idea that everyone can contribute to the solution, each in their own way.

I’m disappointed that EDUCAUSE set the tone for the event in this way, and I sincerely hope that we can have an actual conversation that values all our voices and not start from the premise that most of us don’t matter.

flickr photo by Terry Freedman shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

flickr photo by Terry Freedman shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

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