The Higher-Ed landscape is starting to be questioned with an increased level of scrutiny, and in many cases for the better. Faced with the notion of possibly decades of paying off college debt, students are challenging whether the cost of a college degree is really worth it. Likewise, due to a more competitive marketing landscape, institutions are ever harder pressed to recruit and retain students.
Students are asking a very valid and very real question: "Why should I attend college?" Not only is this an important question for students to attempt to answer for themselves, it's exceptionally important for colleges and universities to help guide students towards a reasonable and informed answer.
If you argue that you are hard pressed by your deans, presidents and board of regents to make sure those enrollment numbers stay up, and that your advisors are over-worked and under-paid, you'd be right. Sitting with your students and really talking to them about what they should be doing might mean a trade-school recommendation. It might mean that they transfer to another department, and it will certainly mean that more time and attention will be paid to them. But, what is the priority in our educational system? Is it not the student?
I attended college and pursued a degree in Computer Science. I love technology, and all the things surrounding it! I also love people, engaging with them, coming up with ideas, and implementing them.
Yet, despite my desire to learn, I wasn't the best student. For me, the problem was that all of my curriculum was purely 'academic.' There was little to no connection between what I was directed to learn and what I saw happening in the real world. Without real and obvious applicability to actual problems engineers were trying to solve today, I was largely disinterested. As a result, I left college with a mountain of debt to become an entrepreneur, knowing little about what I really needed to know.
It would have been incredibly valuable had an advisor helped me to recognize that entrepreneurship was an immediately viable career path, and that the standard course requisites might not be my best choice for success. Now, it may have meant that they would lose some of their four-year revenue from one student, but they would have absolutely fulfilled their mission by sending me out into the world, equipped with enough information to be a productive (and happy) member of society.
As we undertake changes in the system, and as we compete for students, it is our job to recognize who the 'client' actually is and keep them squarely in sight. Everything we do must further the mission of preparing students to be inspired and to understand the relevance of what they are learning.
Our educators must get past their own self-righteousness, past the ego inflated by tenure, and get back to work inspiring the next generation of dreamers and thinkers with actual examples and real-world 'connectivity.' Use your next Calculus lesson to teach students how what they are learning can affect profit in manufacturing.
In short, you can be an academic only if you have the ability to produce real and relevant value for students. Otherwise, perhaps it's time for you to seek an advisor, and let the next generation take the helm.
It's time to move higher-ed from yesterday to tomorrow.