Our Newest Endangered Species: Leaders in Higher Ed

Everyday I read so many articles and blogs about higher ed that my eyes blur.  They generally cover just a few categories: innovation through MOOCs (massive open online courses) or the new skill sets needed by higher ed leaders (social media, business strategy, IT) or the bijillion websites that students can use to find the right match school.  There are blogs about  how to write an essay,  how to create the application timeline and even explaining the rules of the new Common App.  But nowhere – nowhere – can I find the Voice of Big Vision that we used to know as Leadership.

In short, folks, nobody is driving this bus.

We know that the human knowledge set – everything that humans have learned – doubles in less than a decade now because of the web (or the interwebs, as my hilarious friend calls it ), and technology innovations double every 8 months.  All of this change is not only hard to keep up with, it’s hard to place in context.

Because of this rapid change, more than 40 career fields were created in the past decade alone.  More than half of the employers surveyed in a recent survey say that college graduates are not prepared for the current work place.  New brain science is revealing how kids learn best even as private colleges charge upwards of $60K/year for educating in the old, less-effective way, for universities like all big systems are the last to change in the face of new information.  A small and disturbing trend is developing as trustees are offering college presidencies to MBAs instead of to academics, replacing education leaders with financial stewards.  These are mismatches if ever I’ve seen one.

When I first entered the field of college admissions, I was trained to believe that every decision we made would change the world and would affect the nation’s future 3 generations out.  I was taught that education is the quickest way into the middle class and that a robust middle class makes for a happy, safe and prosperous nation.  Since the 1980s I’ve watched us turn away from these beliefs and, not surprisingly, the gap between haves and have nots has grown wider now than its been since the 1930s.

Holy sh*t!  We’re going backwards.

So where are the leaders?  Where are the men and women who are willing to hold the Big Vision that education matters on so many levels and that it’s the best investment we can make as a country?  Where are the men and women who are willing to make the case to their Boards that are stocked with major donors and business people with sharp pencils who want that return on their investments?  Where are the ones with clear voices willing to jump into this mess and speak truth to us all?  Where are the leaders in education who truly think long term and care about the fate of children one hundred years from now, children they will never know?

We need a Transformational Leadership Council for Education made up of courageous educators willing to be the tip of the spear for the human race going forward, because make no mistake, our future is at stake.  The wider the gap between those with and those without, the more unstable America will become over time and maybe we’ll lose the whole thing, all because of fear and lack of vision now.

I’m in the arena.  Who else will join me?