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Higher Education Must Remain Relevant to the Workplace to Survive

Higher Education Must Remain Relevant to the Workplace to Survive


By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University

Everyone in higher education has a story as to why they are in the profession. My story is that I wanted to make a change. I had been working in the corporate world and was tired of seeing college graduates who were unprepared for employment come into the workforce.

Instead of being part of the problem, I wanted to be part of the solution. So I entered higher education full time in 2002. I came with a different perspective than many of my peers in academic administration.

Conference Speaker Offers Meaningful Advice for Higher Education’s Future

One of my most profound experiences occurred around 2003 or 2004, when I attended an accreditation conference. One of the speakers was an editor at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

I don’t remember his name, but I do remember his message. That message provided a basis for my understanding of the greatest challenges in our profession.

His topic was the future state of higher education. He made an analogy of each type of institution of higher learning to the state of churches in the Book of Revelation.

We spent about an hour listening to him describe the strengths and weaknesses of every type of institution (i.e. private four-year institutions, public universities, community colleges and for-profit universities). In closing, he offered some suggestions on how our chosen profession could avoid extinction and survive.

One of his recommendations was to consider partnering/merging and utilizing the strengths of each type of educational institution to press forward and avoid becoming redundant. I don’t think representatives from Purdue University and Kaplan University were at that meeting. However, it is interesting to see that officials of those two institutions came to that same conclusion 13 years later when they announced in April 2017 that Purdue had acquired Kaplan.

Their merger would create “a new public university that would further expand access to higher education,” Purdue President Mitch Daniels said in announcing the acquisition. In doing so, Daniels said the initiative is meant to address “two striking new realities” – “the need for postsecondary education for working adults” and “the explosive growth of online technologies as a means of delivering education to students of all types.”

The Value of Higher Education Is under Attack

One of my biggest concerns is that I do not believe enough institutions understand what is going on. We are under attack as our stakeholders and competitors evaluate the value of our existence.

What made us a necessity in the past is now seen as a luxury or obsolete with no value at all. Some of us need a wake-up call and must come down from our ivory towers. Our “value add” is being questioned and we must present a business case for why we are still relevant.

Think about it. Why should anyone want to attend our institutions? What makes them unique and relevant? How can our students see the value that higher education adds to their lives in the short term and the long term? Finally, is higher education worth the time and money?

All of us in higher education should ask ourselves: What is our legacy and how do we want to be remembered? Make your case and be able to justify why you should still have a seat at the table.

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.



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