On Crediblity and Higher Education

I’m of the opinion that too few higher education institutions are making strides toward ensuring their relevance as human communication continues its Internet-enabled seismic shift. This is increasingly clearer as I read two seemingly-unconnected reports (posts? accounts? who knows what to call them anymore).

First, Seth Godin blogged about an intriguing venture he’s been working on (“Learning From the MBA Program”) – an unaccredited, invitation-only MBA program. One can already hear traditional academics sniffing with upturned noses . The program is almost entirely hands-on practical learning and involves only 5-20 hours of lecturing per week. It’s also heavy on field trips and superb guest speakers.

Godin recalls his own graduate school experience:

“We didn’t do this at all at when I was at Stanford. We spent a lot of time reading irrelevant case studies and even more time building complex financial models. The thing is, you can now hire someone to build a complex financial model for you for $60 an hour. And a week’s worth of that is just about all the typical entrepreneur is going to need. The rest of the time, it’s about shipping, motivating, leading, connecting, envisioning and engaging. So that’s what we worked on. It amazes me that MBA students around the world aren’t up in arms. How can schools justify taking $100,000 in cash and teaching exactly the wrong stuff.”

Second, the Charlotte Observer and New York Times have reported a Clemson staffer has turned whistleblower and spilled the beans on how the university has manipulated its rankings in the the US News & World Report annual rankings.

Those in higher education likely know to take them with a grain of salt given how difficult it is to compare colleges/universities as they’re constantly-shifting and complex institutions. I don’t think the same is true of the general public, a significant portion of which relies on these rankings to make this important life decision (also evidenced by the facts that a reputable university would take this sort of risk to get ahead in the rankings).

The link between these two stories is credibility. A connection to a respected institution from which one can derive credibility.

We in academia sort of assume that “accreditation” objectively confers credibility and that it will remain the gold standard forever (in the same way a lot of people sort of assume that a degree will remain the gold standard in education). While I think both will continue to hold value – they’re losing a bit of ground to other ways of demonstrating credibility as a result of the democratizing power of the web enables upstarts to flourish.

I can’t speak for others, but I certainly would consider a job applicant that was hand-picked to run through a program by Seth Godin. Yet, in the current industrialized model of human resources someone without an accredited degree might be weeded out of the application process for a large organization before the interview phase, but I bet there’s already pressure to change those practices (because there’s surely a lot of talented people being unfairly excluded).

All of this presents an opportunity for colleges and talented individuals like if they’re innovative enough to seize upon it.

Update: More rankings shenanigans have been uncovered at the US News & World Report, this time with the University of Southern California.

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