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PART I: WORKSHOP REPORT
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The Committee on the Impact of the Changing Economy on the Postsecondary Education System held a two-day workshop to discuss the implications of emerging trends and their relevance to the U.S. postsecondary education system. Participants in the workshop on May 14-~ 5, 2001, sponsored by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, discussed these issues, assisted by the presentation of papers on various aspects of these matters. The first session of the workshop generated a discussion that was not addressed by any of the papers. See Appendix A for the Workshop Agenda for the chronology of presentations at the workshop. That is why the central questions are raised later on and do not appear at the forefront of this introduction. These papers form the essence of this volume. As intended for workshops in which an issue is to be explored, the paper authors, assigned discussants, and invited participants _ .. . . , ~ .. . . . .. . . .. . . . . . .. . . ~ ~ o1u not ilnu themselves in immediate unammlty in oetermlmng the slgmilcance ot changes in the amorphous and shifting "system" that encompasses postsecondary education. The influence of the economy on these changes, while acknowledged, was not the focus of the discussion. American colleges and universities, believing themselves to be world leaders in education, are finding that indeed other providers and alternative modes of instruction are supplanting their traditional curricula and course organization with their characteristic faculty autonomy and lack of assessment of student learning. Workshop participants noted that many colleges and universities, particularly those without academically selective admissions criteria, are moving to modify their curricula to what they perceive as desirable by potential students and their employers. The institutions' agility in making these adjustments is questioned by many critics, some from within academe and some from other sectors. Several workshop participants also acknowledged that the apparent monopoly of colleges and universities in Providing nostseconciarv education is over. if. in fact. it ever · , ~ ~ , ~ , ~ ,. . ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ,— · , ~ . lo. ~ · ~ existed. even the term, postseconuary s1mplycet1nes experiences that occur anern1gn school. It does not identify the organizations or institutions that provide them. _ - ~ ... . ~ . . . . . . . . . .. . .. .. .. . . Traditionally, employers and unions also provided instruction, both explicit and Implicit, in what one needed to know and be able to do to be successful in the unique culture of a particular institution. Today it is less clear what the mix of providers of postsecondary education will be and what means they will utilize to provide that education. The "postsecondary education system" appears very unsystematic. Debate continues to persist, particularly in the precincts of colleges and universities, about what the balance between job skills training and broader academic learning ought to be and for whom these opportunities should be provided. Traditional definitions of colleges' missions have seven only limited attention to fob trainings though - ~ ~ , ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ . ~ . . ~ 1 1 ~ _ ~ ~ _ _ 1 ~ _ _ ~ _ _ _ _ _ t ~ ~ _ ~ _ ~ _ all have argued that the overall experience WOU1o enhance one-s employment prospects. At the beginning of the 20th century' most U.S. colleges required a common curriculum with individual concentration in an academic major subject. Now at the beginning of the 2 I st century, colleges offer curricula with highly differentiated studies often aligned with apparent job skills. Conically the dominant call for reform in the elementary and secondary schools pushes those institutions to demonstrate through assessments that their The Knowledge Economy and Postsecondary Education: Report of a Workshop Part I 2
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The Knowledge Economy and Postsecondary Education INTRODUCTION During the last quarter century, the American economy has undergone profound changes, initially in business leadership's confidence in the ability of its institutions to compete effectively internationally, then in a comprehensive restructuring of its organizations, and finally in the remarkable growth in the use of new technologies. These efforts have challenged the institutions with primary responsibility for formal education, schools and colleges, to supply workers who are able to assist their employers in meeting their new business goals. Initially in the 1980s and l990s, the focus was on schools and their limita- tions in providing graduates who could successfully undertake this work. An argument made forcefully in 1983 by the National Com- mission on Excellence in Education in A Nation at Risk alleged that the entire country was threatened by the inadequacies of the Ameri- can school system. The resurgence of the American economy in the l990s suggested that the connection between schooling and subse- quent worker productivity, while important, was not as direct or lin- ear as had seemed to the authors of A Nation at Risk, because the increase in academic performance of American school children was considerably more modest than the rate of growth of the economy and the performance of the stock market in the late l990s. Today the focus has shifted in the United States and, as the World Bank has observed, internationally, to the ability of the postsecondary education system to prepare workers both effectively and efficiently to meet the demands of organizations whose job requirements appear both more complex and less static than previously. Beginning in the 1980s, baccalaureate graduates' employment became much better paid than that of individuals with only some college, only high school, or 3
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only grade school experience (Hudson, this volume; Juhn, Murphy, and Pierce, 1993~. Further, the wages of males with grade school or high school only were no longer enough to keep a family above the poverty line, as they had been in earlier decades. Coincident with these recognitions, or perhaps because of them, U.S. college enroll- ment rates grew for much of the population, particularly for women (Hudson, this volume). The easy assumption was that going to col- lege, and especially completing a degree, led to a job that paid better than the job one would get without a college degree. The solution seemed simple: more education equals more money. But what was the college education really buying? What essence of the college experience made graduates better compensated employees? Could other institutions besides colleges provide that essence? The Committee on the Impact of the Changing Economy on the Education System held a two-day workshop to discuss the implica- tions of emerging trends and their relevance to the U.S. postsecondary education system. Participants in the workshop on May 14-15, 2001, sponsored by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, discussed these issues, assisted by the presentation of six papers on various aspects of these matters. The first session of the workshop generated a discussion that was not addressed by any of the papers. (See Appendix A, Workshop Agenda, for the chronology of presentations at the workshop.) Central questions raised later on in this introduction reflect the workshop participants' concerns as well as the issues in the workshop papers. These papers form the essence of this volume. As intended for workshops in which an issue is to be explored, the papers' authors, assigned discussants, and invited participants did not find themselves in immediate unanimity in deter- mining the significance of changes in the amorphous and shifting "system" that encompasses postsecondary education. The influence of the economy on these changes, while acknowledged, was not the focus of the discussion. American colleges and universities, believing themselves to be world leaders in education, are finding that indeed other providers and alternative modes of instruction are supplanting their traditional curricula and course organization with their characteristic faculty autonomy and lack of assessment of student learning. Workshop participants noted that many colleges and universities, particularly those without academically selective admissions criteria, are moving to modify their curricula to what they perceive as desirable by potential students and their employers. The institutions' agility in making these adjust- ments is questioned by many critics, some from within academe and some from other sectors. Several workshop participants also acknowledged that the apparent monopoly of colleges and universities in providing postsecondary education is over, if, in fact, it ever existed. Even the term "postsecondary" simply defines experiences that occur after high school. It does not identify the organizations or institutions that provide them. Traditionally, 4 WORKSHOP REPORT
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employers and unions have also provided instruction, both explicit and implicit, in what one needed to know and be able to do to be successful in the unique culture of a particular institution. Today it is less clear what the mix of providers of postsecondary education will be and what means they will utilize to provide that education. The "postsecondary education system" appears very unsystematic. Debate continues, particularly in the precincts of colleges and universities, about what the balance between job skills training and broader academic learning ought to be and for whom these oppor- tunities should be provided. Traditional definitions of colleges' missions have given only limited attention to job training, though all have argued that the overall experience would enhance one's employment prospects. At the beginning of the 20th century, most U.S. colleges required a common curriculum with individual concentration in an academic major subject. Now at the beginning of the 21st century, colleges offer curricula with highly differentiated studies often aliened with apparent job skills. Ironically, the dominant call for reform in elementary and secondary schools pushes those institutions to dem- onstrate through assessments that their students have met "academic standards" in various subjects, thus pushing toward a common curriculum, while colleges move toward increased specialization without much assessment. What, in fact, are employers paying for when they hire college graduates for higher wages? Some of the explanation for lack of agreement among workshop participants on these matters was based upon a difference in funda- mental principles regarding the role of higher education in the United States, particularly alternative views of its purpose. For example, the participants recognized that they would not on this occasion resolve the difference between those who sought public support for colleges and universities that provide excellent education for both employ- ment and citizenship at costs affordable to all and those who believed that students (and their families) assume primary financial responsibility for their education in order to enhance their employment prospects. The degree to which strong postsecondary education benefits the nation as a whole as well as the persons who participate in it, and what the balance of the relative benefit to society and to the individual should be, underlay much of the discussion about specific proposals. STRUCTURE OF THE REPORT What follows the Workshop Report (Part I) are the Workshop Papers (Part II). In organizing the workshop and soliciting papers for it, the committee believed that, first, members needed the best avail- able demographic data to learn who was participating in different kinds of postsecondary education. Lisa Hudson's paper, presented as Chapter 1 in this volume, supplies this information. Second, we believed that it was important to look at the traditional higher educa- tion sector colleges and universities to ascertain the degree to which THE KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY AND POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION s
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different parts were modifying their programs and instruction to adapt to the apparent changing skill requirements of employers. Thomas Bailey's paper (Chapter 2) concentrates upon community colleges, traditionally the higher education sector most immediately responsive to employer needs. Carol A. Twigg (Chapter 3) surveys the ways in which four-year institutions are attempting to modify their curricular offerings and their pedagogy, often utilizing the resources of the Internet, to adapt their offerings in ways that they and their students believe will be more useful. In the paper presented here as Chapter 4, Brian Fusser, on the other hand, reminds participants of the public's broader interests in higher education, challenging the acceptance of the primacy of job preparation for the individual and of the "market" metaphor as an appropriate descriptor of American higher education. The discussion stimulated by these papers raised many issues about both the desirability of these changes in traditional colleges and uni- versities and the likelihood that these institutions would, in fact, change significantly. Other providers, particularly for-profit organizations with significant capacities for distance or virtual learning, recognize great opportunities for developing programs to serve students' need for immediate focused instruction that will enhance job skills. During the workshop, Brandon Dobell, who follows the business fortunes of these companies for Credit Suisse First Boston, explained the popu- larity of such organizations on Wall Street: their excellent customer service, good business models, and effective management permit them to meet their earnings estimates regularly. The committee believed that it would be helpful to look in some detail at one example of a for-profit company that was providing instruction necessary for workers in its industry. Richard Murnane, Nancy Sharkey, and Frank Levy investigated the experience of Cisco Systems with its Networking Academies, which prepare students in high school and community colleges to earn certificates testifying to their information technology skills. Their findings are presented in Chapter 5. Finally, the committee concluded that changes in postsecondary education must be based on a deeper understanding of how learning occurs and how it can be encouraged, particularly in cyberspace. John Bransford and his colleagues, Nancy Vye and Helen Bateman, addresses these issues in their paper, which appears here as Chapter 6. FIVE MAJOR DISCUSSION QUESTIONS Five central questions emerged from the workshop presentations and the discussions resulting from them: How are job skills changing? How does learning occur best? 3. Can we assess learning adequately? 4. What structural and organizational changes are taking place in the provision of postsecondary education? Who is participating and to what effect in postsecondary education? 6 WORKSHOP REPORT
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How Are Job Skills Changing? What is the nature of these assumed changes in skills? Very little evidence is cited that supports what is, in fact, a widespread public conviction that such changes have occurred. Most discussions focus upon increasing needs for technological skills, such as those in demand in the information technology field. Many participants pointed to requirements for much stronger literacy skills for understanding written and oral instructions. Still others at the workshop stressed that demand for effective workplace communication and cooperative team member participation, often called "soft skills," has become ubiquitous. On the other hand, recognition exists that certain skills are no longer in high demand, such as the ability to compute change due or to add a bill mentally, having been replaced by computers and other technology. Undoubtedly job skill demands are shifting, as the economy and jobs within it shift, but the nature of these changes and the impact of them upon future preparation of workers are not well understood. How Does Learning Occur Best? Traditionally colleges and universities have addressed this question by engaging in discussions about curriculum, course requirements, and syllabi, and occasionally pedagogy, triggering familiar arguments about the value of the 50-minute lecture versus seminar discussion. Several participants noted that demand for admission to highly selective institutions has risen steadily in recent years, presumably at least partially on the basis that students there will benefit from regular contact with others who have been similarly selected. These institu- tions tout their pedagogy, but few engage in rigorous examination of their students' learning. As John Bransford and his co-authors note in their paper, recent advances in cognitive science married to emerging knowledge of the uses of technology to enhance learning are creating an important new opportunity to engage this issue. They observe that the topic is shifting from pedagogy to learning. The focus, they argue, has appropriately become the students and how they, each of them, will master the material. Formerly, the focus was upon the instructors and how they delivered the material. Other workshop participants also cited the importance of more complicated under- standing of how we learn, how elements of learning can be isolated or "modularized," and how learning in one setting can be utilized in a different one. These are all part of the fundamental new investiga- tions that focus upon learning itself. Can We Assess Learning Adequately? As many participants noted, assessment (a more comprehensive term than "testing") is achieving a new salience in postsecondary education. Already the subject of contentious discussion for elementary THE KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY AND POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION 7
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and secondary schools, assessment is emerging as a major issue for the postsecondary community as well. Formerly, the college degree itself was thought to be assessment enough. Today the demand for the degree or some other credential increasingly is supplemented by some indication that the person has actually learned what the degree or credential attests. This is not a novel development. Lawyers must still pass bar exams, doctors who want recognition as specialists must pass board exams, and elementary and secondary teachers, who became licensed through examinations until the 1920s, are again increasingly facing certification examinations. Institutions whose students fail the teacher examinations in large numbers are being threatened by powerful sanctions. Thus, assessment is creeping into institutions themselves, rather than simply being the responsibility of the students to master the material themselves, either through good pedagogy, self-study, or some combination of both. As Carol A. Twigg observes in her paper and as others noted in discussion, systematic assessments are vastly enhanced by the imaginative use of technology with immediate response to student effort. Such careful and immediate analysis of student work is still relatively rare but is clearly growing in both its accuracy and its applicability. Several participants observed that one of the most profound effects of the distance education and virtual learning movements, as well as the for- profit providers of education, has been the increased use of and attention to assessment. Since the traditional modes of college experience (and the public confidence of accountability that the four-year residential college provided) are not available to them, these organizations have had to devise means to show that students were benefiting from their experiences. The benefit was documented learning, a new idea for most traditional colleges and universities. An additional point made by many of the workshop participants is that while attention to assess- ment has increased substantially throughout postsecondary education recently, given the stimulus of the growth of cognitive science, tech- nology, distance learning, and the for-profit education providers, the adequacy of these new assessments remains a subject for additional investigation and research. I,,, . ~ . What Structural and Organizational Changes Are Taking Place in the Provision of Postsecondary Education? For-profit institutions and nonresidential instruction dominated dis- cussions at the workshop of the organization of postsecondary education. Yet what is most striking to the committee is the enormous increase in the last 50 years in enrollments at U.S. colleges and universities, both from U.S. citizens and from foreign nationals. Higher education has experienced tremendous growth, traditionally believing itself to be a separate species from the corporate sector. How separate are they? Many at the workshop argued that a convergence is occurring with traditional colleges and universities becoming more like companies. 8 WORKSHOP REPORT
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This phenomenon is often described as an acceptance of the "market model" for higher education and hence a renunciation of its tradi- tional isolation in an "ivory tower." Both descriptions caricature reality, but the advent of unionized graduate student assistants; "revenue- centered" budgeting in colleges; outsourcing of many staff functions, such as the police or food service; and the provision of publicly subsidized college courses designed to serve specific industries all suggest to the committee an erosion of the eleemosynary nature of higher education. An important dilemma raised at the workshop was the determination of appropriate distinctions between for-profit institutions, maximizing value to shareholders, and educational institutions, enabling learning and investigations for the benefit of students and society. Who Is Participating and to What Effect in Postsecondary Education? Although the tremendous growth in participation rates in U.S. higher education in the last 50 years is well documented by Lisa Hudson and others, the explanations for the differing participation rates by gender, ethnicity, and age are not. Workshop participants raised the question: Why have women, particularly White and Black, increased their participation rates so markedly? Do women need the degree or credential more than men? What is happening with the category termed "Hispanic," whose participation rates in higher education seem to be falling? "Hispanics," of course, include immigrants, multi- generational U.S. citizens, rich, poor, and various racial mixes. Since the 18-22 year olds devoting full-time to their college studies (the traditional undergraduate population) now constitute considerably less than half of all undergraduates, the balance of enrollees is important but little understood. Workshop participants raised questions such as: . Do the remainder think of themselves primarily as employees taking a few courses or students working to pay for their education? If difficulty occurs in understanding enrollees in colleges and univer- sities, then the problem in identifying and understanding the motivation for persons enrolled in nontraditional forms of postsecondary education, particularly distance learning and emerging for-profit and nonprofit organizations that supply instruction, is immensely greater. Several participants familiar with current U.S. government data collection methods report that data from such institutions are difficult to encompass in surveys, yet those activities are vital to our committee's under- standing of the skill sets that individuals seek. · Who will have access and at what cost to the emerging tech- nologies, such as the benefits from the auction of the electromagnetic spectrum? · Finally, who is paying the costs of these educational activities? Are individuals from low-income families increasingly attending courses and institutions that limit their job options and ultimate economic THE KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY AND POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION 9
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mobility, as the data for non-Asian minorities concentrated in two- year community colleges would suggest (Hudson, this volume)? Has the shift in U.S. financial aid policies over the last 25 years from fewer grants to more loans had the effect of diminishing educational opportunities to those living in low-income families who are under- standably fearful of debt? Is stratification by family wealth increas- ing in U.S. postsecondary education? Would it matter if it were? The five questions formed the heart, but not the entire body, of the workshop discussion. To explore the issues further, we commend the papers themselves and the sources they cite. REFERENCES Juhn, C., Murphy, K.M., and Pierce, B. (1993~. Wage inequality and the rise in returns to skill. Journal of Political Economy 101 (June): 410-442. National Commission on Excellence in Education. (1983~. A nation at risk: The imperative for educational reform. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. 0 WORKSHOP REPORT
Representative terms from entire chapter: