The fact is, in higher education we really don't know. Unlike the standards of measure now being applied in K-12 through No Child Left Behind (draconian or controversial as they may be thought), no measures of success are demanded of higher education. Enrollment numbers, how smart students were before they arrived, how successful a football team...all are the current and inappropriate measures of value in today's colleges and universities.
So students continue to accrue previously unimaginable debt and nothing except the cost of an education seems to change in America. Many in HE have been waiting for a collapse similar to the shocking changes made to general medical care. We asked the medical industry to change, they didn't, and HMOs swept in and changed health care from the outside. One wonders who/what will have the authority to act as education's HMO? Private, for-profits like University of Phoenix with 225,000+ online students in 7 years? Community colleges asking for the ability to offer bachelor's degrees in a new 'communiversity' model? A public fed up with an institution that recognizes no customer and no obligation to serve? Higher education should step to the plate. It has a wealth of brain power that should be capable of a more thoughtful approach to solving its serious problems.
Kevin Carey asked some great questions recently about what it would take for HE to wake up and begin considering needed change. Seems everyone on the outside recognizes that HE is no longer offering the education the student and society wants or needs.
Seems if we put our heads together, those on the inside could come up with some ideas on how to drive down cost, improve access, increase desperately needed, new 21st century skills. Sadly, it also seems that we need to do it when our HE leaders (dressed in their finery/living the high life/increasing tuition AND lower division class size/jetting around the world)aren't looking.
At least Bill and Melinda Gates know a problem when they see it. And unlike our fat and happy HE leaders, the Gates Foundation wants to solve it. I think the thoughtful, working folk of HE should submit ideas to help them do just that.