Business Model? We Don’t Need No Business Model!

Few things raise my hackles more than irrational or illogical behavior. And, in this collection I also include my own behavior. Take for example the recent news of a student, Timothy Arnold, a University of Central Florida student, who developed an application. His application, UCouldFinish, helped students find courses with open seats. Armed with this knowledge, over 500 students found acceptable courses in which to enroll. In higher education, 500 students x 3 credit hours equals 1,500 credit hours. Now UCF charges $208 per credit hour (site). Doing some simple math…1,500 x $208 equals (make this easy: 15 x2 x1000) about $300,000 dollars. Hypothetically, Mr. Arnold helped UCF bring in $300,000 with his application.

Consulting the UCouldFinish web site, Timothy has been subjected to punishment for being so bold as to help his university improve the conditions of his fellow students and also helping improve the financial environment of his university. Mr. Arnold’s application earned him 3 semesters of academic probation, a research paper on the management of MyUCF, and counseling on how to make good choices.

To throw some positive vibes on this debacle, the 3 semesters of probation is not a big deal. Timothy sounds like a smart guy. He will either make those semesters pass easily, or he will bid UCF adieu and find a more suitable uni to finish his education. My sense is a company, like Google, or Facebook, or Twitter will offer him a job. Writing a research paper on the IT on the UCF ERP system will undoubtedly require some research. He should need to speak with many IT folks, network analysts, programmers, and system admins to get a sense of the breadth and depth of the inner workings of the ERP system in order to understand the impact his application had upon UCF IT. All of his research will undoubtedly result in more experience dealing with systems, programming, and the entire ecosystem of higher ed IT, giving him even more insight into the trials and tribulations of systems administration. Thus, in writing the research paper, he could end up with even greater knowledge of how to exploit…er, augment educational IT systems.

In a broader sense, Timothy Arnold v. UCF illustrates a much more important and sobering issue in Higher Education. Traditional higher education, public & private colleges and universities, are being assaulted on numerous fronts. Set aside for a moment the Conservation/Right-wing/GOP gutting of education, in general. The literal attacks committed against Education by Republicans is well-documented and is a true source of concern. However, critical thinking requires us to ask, Why? Why is their such animosity against Education, especially Higher Education?

I submit one essential reason: Higher Education has become sclerotic, hard, calcified, resist to change and adapt, entrenched in a management mindset at least a century old. For traditional colleges and universities to not only remain relevant but to serve current and future educational needs, the Higher Education business model needs to evolve from the 19th century academic mindset into a a mindset capable of being nimble and adaptive to 21st century educational needs. If Higher Education had been more vigilant in adapting and evolving new business and academic models, these specious attacks would have no merit

A propose a number of remedies to address the improvement of our College and University business models. First, classes need to be able to be added & dropped as needed. Doing such will require some transcript flexibility. Department chairs and deans are best able to support student advising and transcript adjustment. ERP systems need to be able be adaptive enough to manage student academic records, as well.

Colleges and Universities must be allowed to leverage faculty, staff, and student expertise. Unquestionably and undeniably, colleges and universities must be open and receptive to using on-site knowledge, experience, and expertise to address the daily and long-term mission of the institution. As Timothy Arnold attempted, when a need is identified, such as the notification system Timothy developed, those needs should be immediately addressed. Students should be allowed to help design and implement CMS and help manage institutional web sites. Students should be allowed to help develop institutional applications which help the overall function of the institution. One of the greatest complaints new graduates have, and have always had, is that of experience, having none. Students assisting with all aspects of institutional management, planning, and IT will have experience upon graduation. Perhaps experience with Drupal, Joomla!, PHP, Python, WordPress, Javascript, HTML5, SQL and SQL Server, or Oracle. Graduating student would have experience in application development, design, implementation, and enhancement. A phenomenal example of such a team is the InfoGraphics Lab in the Department of Geography at the University of Oregon.

Online courses, for-private schools, and now the growing presence of massively open online courses (MOOC), with the movement of so much content into “the cloud” is going to push universities to evolve into something new. Those who do not evolve, who do not revolutionize their educational business model are going to slide away into obscurity.

Current business models and the closely related academic models will need to evolve into something else. Global economic forces change faster than seasons or global climate change predictions. Business, industry, and global commercial sectors need employees who can adapt to change and work within fluid environments. Industry needs nimble thinkers who can address current business trends yet also be able to act quickly and foresee changes in technology, consumer tastes, trends in raw materials and labor markets which are embedded in Globalization.

Of current concern is unemployment. As of this writing, 12.8 million people were unemployed. The national unemployment rate is 8.3%. Again, doing some quick math, 12.8 / 0.083 and we arrive at a labor force size of about 156 million Americans, which is about 50% of our population, and that is my “rule of thumb” for determining the size of any country’s labor force (about 50% of population, give or take) (Source: BLS).

Also, of this writing there are about 3.8million open job postings. We can debate the accuracy of the number, I will grant that. But, hypothetically, let’s say …entertain me here… 3 million of those open jobs were filled by people from the 12.8 million group. Then, we would have only 9.8 million unemployed. Simple math gives us 9.8 / 156 which equals 6.3% unemployment (Source: BLS)

Now, 6.3% is not bad. Not great, but certainly better than +8%. The question then becomes, “Why are those jobs not being filled by people in the 12.8million group?”

I don’t have an answer to that question. I know some factors include unwillingness to move to where the jobs are, the pay of those open jobs, and the experience gap between the unemployed group the experience those open jobs require.

Retraining & re-education can help fill some of those jobs. Re-education requires colleges and universities to be open, fair, and honest with themselves, and be open to new ideas, fail fast, fail often, and learn and grow from those experiences, and be ever-evolving. Self-assessment mandates interaction with business and industry to make sure graduates have both the education and experience necessary for those graduates to succeed.

Higher Education cannot be a stove-pipe themselves, or become educational “silos” immune to local, state, national, or international influences and catalysts. Those institutions who pay attention will succeed by their graduates. Those institutions who fail to adapt to 21st century educational changes and evolving business needs will falter and suffer under constant mis-identification of goals and mis-aligned “mission statements” and find themselves under-going continual identity crises which will do nothing but undermine institutional confidence at all levels.

Institutions of Higher Learning represent a bizarre dichotomy of work environments. On one hand, some of the most brilliant people on the planet are employed by them, and some of the most pedantic, too. Even the educated folks are routinely bound by limited vision and are what I might label as “novice learners” being unable to see past their own discipline, specialty area, or responsibility. Thus, the very institutions which were created to promote critical thinking and openness are just as poisoned as any other institution or corporation.

So, yes, my hackles get up when these institutions victimize innovation, stifle advancement, creativity, and stymy new ideas and concepts, and squash young, middle-aged, an older minds in favor of “tradition” and “that just not the way its done” mentalities.

I invite all rational and reasonable comments 🙂


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