It's time for education to grab some swagger & convert from merely service provider to a venture capitalist mindset
Let's face it. Most people (unless you work in the dot EDU space) look to the higher education (or education in general) enterprise with an industrial mindset; one where teaching and learning are present & service providers (faculty/staff) do unto the students (our customers) and the primary objective is to educate. This mindset is obsolete and does not reflect the true value or real mission of educational institutions.
Instead, we must switch our mindset from the industrialized, wrote and preordained (often pedantic) way it has always been to a new, invigorated perspective. Simply put, we must move beyond conceptualizing our educational enterprise as one that simply provides a service (teaching & knowledge creation) to one that is at the top-end of value creation chain. That is, where we were once viewed and often view(ed) ourselves as service providers, we must change to believing we are, and acting as, very active venture capitalists engaged in seeding value creation, one (or many) student(s) at a time.
Over the last few years, during the dark days of the economic bust, the energy of & enthusiasm for the education sector has almost been completely sucked out, particularly in the wake of the great movement of taxpayers no longer willing to foot the bill (investment) for public education across all levels. It's as if the public has lost confidence in the whole enterprise as a means of building value for communities & society by abandoning public education altogether as they have lost will to cover the costs of educating the whole population. In these challenging budgetary times where tuition is on a constant escalation, and faculty and staff members are continually asked to cut costs, and do more with less, the incessant second guessing, public shellacking and questioning of the quality of the educational enterprise has effectively demoralized large swaths of the personnel who have dedicated their lives to working in the dot EDU industry.
Moreover, for about the whole history of modern society, education, and educators in particular, have been viewed primarily & simply as service providers. We are teachers, and we shape learning by teaching. Unlike measuring profit on the bottom line, sales minus overhead on balance sheets, or per share price on the market, both quality teaching and learning are difficult to measure and assess as we work to ensure high quality outcomes. Even so, because of this mindset - one of educators as service providers - it's easy to criticize and question the performance of teachers and professors, particularly given that just about every one has sat on the student-side of the desk at least once in their lives. The malaise of suffering (woe is us, correct or incorrectly ascertained) through constant critique of one's capacity to serve (or even just the perception of this constant critique), and more concretely metastasized by decreased and still decreasing funding levels only serves to discourage those that otherwise should be considered venerable operators in a noble profession.
Our predominant "service provider" mindset is harmful and diminishes our ability to take the whole enterprise of education to the next level. We must set ourselves on a new path. This new path, instead of being battered by efforts to "reform" the service, can carve a new way forward to fulfill what should be the promise of an innovative educational operation built to sustain and flourish in this his relatively new Millennium.
The solution is simple, but not easy. Effectively, we (in the dot EDU industry) need to grab some swagger, elevate our game, and call ourselves what we really are - venture capitalists where teaching and knowledge are our main currency.
Our students are where we invest. When our students finish a course of study (or better yet, gain some skills and knowledge even after just one class) and go off and do great things, our ROI (return on our investment) is much more easily measured.
By "switching" our conceptualization of the education enterprise from simple providers of service (teaching/education or job training, if you want to take the vocational bent), to one that views those engaged in the game as investors (with knowledge as capital to invest) and students as the vehicle for those investments, we change the nature of the whole relationship. Teachers become VCs, who not only conduct research to discover knew knowledge, harness and deliver knowledge and depart wisdom. Students are also valued, but with nascent ideas, seek out new knowledge and quality investors (VC partners) who will help them grow their skills, talents, and abilities so that as they lever the invested capital, advance themselves and society, hopefully exponentially.
Changing the conceptulization and mindset of education as a vehicle for investing in the future our our society elevates the whole game. The collection of people that comprise the business end of a school, college or university are valuable assets that can have deep and meaningful contributions that shape better investments over time. The students are no longer considered customers to be served or merely students to be taught, but are viewed as investments to seed and cultivate, with the specific aim to bring great value into the future.
Many will argue that this mindset change (from service provider to venture capitalist) is just a matter of semantics, but if we manage the shift, a venture capitalist mindset can change behavior. Think of it this way, do you view public education as a high quality investment in the future or your community, or a drain on the tax base? Could you double or triple down on your investment in education and expect a corresponding ROI?
One of the bigger challenges is that we (in the educational enterprise) suffer from is a subtraction, not an addition, problem. That is, we are very good at adding new elements (almost glacially) to our sphere of responsiblity, but find it very difficult to subtract corresponding elements that should be pruned to make room for the new. In that regard, it's going to be very difficult to shed this "service provider" mindest because we have for so long looked at our operation using this lens.
Measuring ROI can be challenging, but if we embrace new social media tools liked LinkedIn - where the alumni self update - it will be easier to "see" the investment grow (as a student advances professionally, posts accomplishments, or grows in ways they are willing to make visible).
I'm not sure what the first step in this hack would be. Retooling mindset for an individual is challenging enough, let alone trying to reset a whole industry and the society on a broader level. In the end, this very notion may be just fanciful or wishful thinking.
Concretely, perhaps the best first step is to work backward and ensure that your institutions are connected with all your alums (or as instructors, we connect with all of our former students) on a professional social media platform (like LinkedIn). In that way, we can at least witness the progress our students make as they use the skills/knowledge we've invested in them.
It's impossible to identify the origins of this idea beyond my own brain, but there have been some influences not the least of which was the book "Switch," by the Heath brothers, "Sway," by the Brafman brothers, and the recent post about LinkedIn's new move deeper into the education space.