Governor Foster Furcolo and His Vision on Public Higher Education in Massachusetts

More than 2,000,000 students or almost 43% of the college level student population annually would never have the opportunity to attend public higher education in Massachusetts unless the Governor Foster Furcolo’s passionate and untiring struggle to set up 15 Community Colleges within the state was not successful in 1950s. As the Republicans’ Editorial correctly expressed in September 2009, his services were long forgotten by the politicians. In appreciation of his services Massachusetts general laws were amended, only two years back, to designate the 15 Community Colleges Collectively as the “Governor Foster Fucolo’s Community Colleges.” At a time when the private higher education was dominant, and had access mostly to the students from well to do families, Governor Furcolo opened the door for public higher education to those who could not afford to attend costly private educational institutes. He wanted the colleges to locate closer to communities, provide the education at a lower cost to the individuals as well as to the state, meet the demands of the rising manufacturing and service sectors, and to raise the income of families and the revenue of the state in the long run. The benefits of his intelligent foresight could be seen clearly in the Massachusetts economy and society today.

One of his aims was to provide opportunity for higher education for members from low income families who wanted to pursue their higher education. He wanted to reach immigrants, non- working adults, working men and women and disable people who wish to enhance their skills and engage in economic activities. The composition of student population at present shows how far the Governor Furcolo’s target groups reached and benefited from his community college movement. According to a recent economic impact report, the average household income of those students attended community colleges was less than US$ 36,000 per annum, and 60% of the financial aid recipients, particularly the Pell Grant recipients, were from families who earned less than US$ 18,600 per year.

Governor Furcolo saw the growing college age population in mid fifties, and the obstacles they had to get into higher education. His solution was to have a public higher education system to help this population, providing opportunity for them to engage in skill enhancing studies, on-part time, open enrollment basis, and if required with opportunity to enroll in remedial courses. Examination of the composition of student population in Community Colleges in Massachusetts shows that the majority belong to the part-time adult student groups. More than 61% of students in Community Colleges in Massachusetts are half time or quarter time students, and were over 25 years of age, Only 39% were full-time students and in the traditional college age group. Many of them required to have remedial courses such as Math and English, Writing and Reading prior to enrolling for college work. As to a recent study, based on 2005 high school students who entered the Community Colleges in Massachusetts, 37% in average, needed at least one remedial course prior to start work at the college level(Conaway 2008).

Achievement of Fucolo’s vision to make public college education affordable to poor families is evidenced from comparing cost for community college education with other college systems, even today. The national average for college tuition cost for public universities is $4,694 for in state residents. The tuition and fees in a private college is around $ 20,000 in the nation, while in a community college the cost is averaged to $ 2,076. The same pattern is observable in Massachusetts. The nature of the student population required higher education, as Furcolo viewed it, required a dispersed pattern of education facilities. Low distance to facilities save time, and reduce movement cost, reducing the overall cost to an individual, and also minimizing the disturbance to daily routines. Furcolo envisioned that the colleges are located at a commuting distance, so those who were busy with household as well as work place chores could attend them conveniently. Hence, his Public Higher Education Act in 1958 provided laws to set up state wide system of 15 Community Colleges throughout in Massachusetts. They have become the house for 46% of the college students in Massachusetts at present, and it is more than four times of the student enrollment in Higher education in 1950s (Burns 1995).

Fucolo understood the need of the skilled labor in the growing business and the manufacturing sectors at the time, and the responsibility of the public higher education to create a skilled labor pool, if Massachusetts was to be competitive and keep pace with the other states. The community Colleges, therefore, seen as the solution to the shortage of skilled manpower problem at the time. The skilled labor training is a core function of the community colleges even today. Comprehensive Regional Community Colleges in Massachusetts today offer an array of programs leading to associate degrees, certificates and vocational programs. They provide basic, continuing, and remedial courses for college age students and adults. They affiliate with schools, industries and work places and develop programs to improve the skills and the quality of labor helping to increase efficiency and productivity. Massachusetts Community colleges have pioneered an innovative, low- cost, state wide workforce training resource for business and industry called Mass* Net, and it helps to provide workforce training in 21 technological fields. According to a Community College information source more than 5000 work force development programs are yearly offered by Massachusetts Community Colleges. By providing, skilled manpower needs of the states industry, commercial as well as other service units, they have helped to increase income of the manufacturing units, individuals, and the State.

Governor Furcolo wanted to make the Community Colleges a “preparation ground” for higher education. One of the important missions of these colleges today is to facilitate their graduates to transfer to four year colleges which is also an important component of the most community college students’ educational aspirations. At present, Community Colleges have well designed programs and provisions to facilitate student transfers through transfer agreements, and bindings with four year colleges and universities. As a member of a Public Higher Education System, Quinsigamond Community College for example,maintains ties with all the Massachusetts four year colleges and universities and facilitate student transfers through Mass Transfer program introduced in 2008.This program helps for students through reduced tuition fees, and credit transfers, and make transfer process quick, smooth and affordable..

The economic impact of the Community Colleges on individuals, families, and business is clearly seen today in Massachusetts. A recent economic impact report estimated that the incremental annual income of the Community College graduates as US$ 21400 compared to non-graduates. Education also opens to opportunity for better jobs with better benefits.It has been estimated that 90% of the Massachusetts Community College graduates working in the state after their graduation in business, industry, or other services, and the income they generate hence spent mostly within the state. This means that the state is able to generate more revenues taxing the personal income of the community college graduates working in the state. Further, the expenditure in Community Colleges has created a multiplier effects and further regional growth as to various studies. These colleges help also the local economies to sustain their economic activities through spending of students and visitors, and workers. Thus the Community Colleges in Massachusetts have become a growth engine for the state according to the same economic impact report mentioned earlier.

Governor Foster Furcolo ‘s foresight on Public Higher Education as discussed in this essay have helped many poor, and low income young as well as adult students to enter into higher education. The personal income of those who educated these colleges has increased due to their higher education, and also the income of the state through income tax revenues. Those graduates have become the greatest source of skilled man power, for industries and business to thrive in Massachusetts. Governor Furcolo should be viewed as a great serviceman who served Massachusetts, and embrace his visions in the future as The Republican Editorial remarked in September 2009.

Challenges and Opportunities in the Context of Internationalization of Higher Education

The World Bank’s 1991 ‘World Development Report’ has made a very interesting observation that the scientific and technological progress and enhanced productivity in any nation have a close link with investment in human capital as well as the quality of the economic environment. Scientific and technological capabilities are, however, unevenly distributed in the world and are linked with the education system in a nation.

The 21st century has seen quite massive changes in higher education systems both in terms of complexity of the systems and also in terms of its utility for converting education into an effective tool for social and economic changes. A very interesting relationship is emerging among education, knowledge, conversion of knowledge into suitable entities from trade point of view, wealth and economy.

Internationalization of education includes the policies and practices undertaken by academic systems and institutions-and even individuals-to cope with the global academic environment. The motivations for internationalization include commercial advantage, knowledge and language acquisition, enhancing the curriculum with international content, and many others. Specific initiatives such as branch campuses, cross-border collaborative arrangements, programs for international students, establishing English-medium programs and degrees, and others have been put into place as part of internationalization. Efforts to monitor international initiatives and ensure quality are integral to the international higher education environment.

The higher education system across the world has witnessed two more interesting revolutions. The first is connected with the advent and use of computers in teaching and learning as well as research and the second is linked with communication revolution. Today, education transcends across the geographical boundaries. Besides, the structure and context of academic work also has undergone a tremendous change. Student diversity and the administrative and pedagogical demands of new modes of curricula delivery characterize the academic’s everyday working environment.

The accomplishment of any educational change is linked with the readiness of teachers to implement new methods and innovative practices. The present paper is an attempt to understand the role of teachers in internationalization of higher education in India. The focus of the present paper is to be acquainted with the challenges and opportunities for faculty in the context of internationalization of higher education and their inclination to adapt the change.

Review of literature:

A growing number of papers and studies document the many ways in which the university experience of students, academic and administrative staff has been radically transformed [Chandler & Clark 2001, Deem 2001]. Student diversity and the administrative and pedagogical demands of new modes of curricula delivery characterize the academic’s everyday working environment. Identities as academics are under constant challenge as academic staff take on multiple and often conflicting roles as consultants, researchers, teachers, counselors and international marketers. Support for academics involved in international activities is scarce and the central strategic control of resources with its demands for flexibility compromises the quality of academic life.

A qualitative study examines the role of international experience in the transformative learning of female educators as it relates to professional development in a higher education context. It also investigates how the learning productions of these experiences were transferred to the participants’ home country. Nine American female faculty and administrators who worked at universities in Arab countries in the Gulf region participated in this study. The results suggest that the transformative learning of the female educators was reflected in three themes: changes in personal and professional attitudes, experiencing a new classroom environment that included different students’ learning style and unfamiliar classroom behavior, and broadening of participants’ global perspectives. Another study sought to assess how and why some higher education institutions have responded to aspects of globalization and, in particular how organizational culture influences universities’ responses to globalization. Using a predominantly qualitative, mixed-methods approach, empirical research was used to explore the impact of globalization at four Canadian universities. A multiple, case-study approach was used to achieve a depth of understanding to establish the universities’ culture, institutional strategies, and practices in response to globalization.

Context of the study:

Political & educational context

Everyone recognizes that India has a serious higher education problem. Although India’s higher education system, with more than 13 million students, is the world’s third largest, it only educates around 12 per cent of the age group, well under China’s 27 per cent and half or more in middle-income countries. Thus, it is a challenge of providing access to India’s expanding population of young people and rapidly growing middle class. India also faces a serious quality problem – given that only a tiny proportion of the higher education sector can meet international standards. The justly famous Indian Institutes of Technology and the Institutes of Management, a few specialized schools such as the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research constitute tiny elite, as do one or two private institutions such as the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, and perhaps 100 top-rated undergraduate colleges. Almost all of India’s 480 public universities and more than 25,000 undergraduate colleges are, by international standards, mediocre at best. India has complex legal arrangements for reserving places in higher education to members of various disadvantaged population groups. Often setting aside up to half of the seats for such groups, places further stress on the system.

Capacity problem

India faces severe problems of capacity in its educational system in part because of underinvestment over many decades. More than a third of Indians remain illiterate after more than a half century of independence. A new law that makes primary education free and compulsory, while admirable, it takes place in a context of scarcity of trained teachers, inadequate budgets, and shoddy supervision. The University Grants Commission and the All-India Council for Technical Education, responsible respectively for supervising the universities and the technical institutions, are being abolished and replaced with a new combined entity. But no one knows just how the new organization will work or who will staff it. India’s higher education accrediting and quality assurance organization, the National Assessment and Accreditation Council, which was well-known for its slow movement, is being shaken up. But, again, it is unclear how it might be changed.

Current plans include the establishing of new national “world-class” universities in each of India’s States, opening new IITs, and other initiatives. The fact is that academic salaries do not compare favorably with remuneration offered by India’s growing private sector and are uncompetitive by international standards. Many of India’s top academics are teaching in the United States, Britain, and elsewhere. Even Ethiopia and Eritrea recruit Indian academics.

Welcoming foreign universities:

Very recently it is announced that the government of India is preparing itself for permitting foreign universities to enter the Indian market. The foreigners are expected to provide the much needed capacity and new ideas on higher education management, curriculum, teaching methods, and research. It is hoped that they will bring investment. Top-class foreign universities are anticipated to add prestige to India’s postsecondary system. All of these assumptions are at the very least questionable. While foreign transplants elsewhere in the world have provided some additional access, they have not dramatically increased student numbers. Almost all branch campuses are small and limited in scope and field. In the Persian Gulf, Vietnam, and Malaysia, where foreign branch campuses have been active, student access has been only modestly affected by them. Branch campuses are typically fairly small and almost always specialized in fields that are inexpensive to offer and have a ready clientele such as business studies, technology, and hospitality management. Few branch campuses bring much in the way of academic innovation. Typically, they use tried and true management, curriculum, and teaching methods. The branches frequently have little autonomy from their home university and are, thus, tightly controlled from abroad.

Foreign providers will bring some investment to the higher education sector, particularly since the new law requires an investment of a minimum of $11 million – a kind of entry fee – but the total amount brought into India is unlikely to be very large. Global experience shows that the large majority of higher education institutions entering a foreign market are not prestigious universities but rather low-end institutions seeking market access and income. Top universities may well establish collaborative arrangement with Indian peer institutions or study/research centers in India, but are unlikely to build full-fledged branch campuses on their own. There may be a few exceptions, such as the Georgia Institute of Technology, which is apparently thinking of a major investment in Hyderabad.

Indian education is a joint responsibility of the Central and State governments – and many States have differing approaches to higher education generally and to foreign involvement in particular. Some, such as Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, have been quite interested. Other States such as West Bengal with its communist government may be more sceptical. And a few, such as Chhattisgarh have been known to sell access to university status to the highest bidders.

Significance of study:

The volatile situation in higher education system vis-à-vis internationalization of higher education creates many opportunities as well as challenges to the teachers of higher education. Pressures for change in the field of teacher education are escalating significantly as part of systemic education reform initiatives in a broad spectrum of economically developed and developing nations. Considering these pressures, it is surprising that relatively little theoretical or empirical analysis of learning and change processes within teacher education programs have been undertaken. The present study considers this situation and makes an endeavor to understand the challenges faced or anticipated by the teaching faculty in the context of internalization of education.

Aims of the study:

The present study is aimed to understand and analyze the position of college teachers in general and those of working undergraduate colleges.

Data collection:

Locale of the study:

Data for the present study is collected from the college teachers situated at Hyderabad. Colleges in Hyderabad are generally affiliated to Osmania University. In addition to various colleges, the city is home to three central universities, two deemed universities, and six state universities. Osmania University, established in 1917, is the seventh oldest university in India and the third oldest in South India. Indian School of Business, an international business school ranked number 12 in global MBA rankings by the Financial Times of London in 2010 is also located in Hyderabad.

Colleges in Hyderabad offer graduation and post graduation and post graduation programmes in science, arts, commerce, law & medicine. College of Engineering – Osmania University, Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, Indian Institute of Technology, etc. are some of the famous engineering colleges in Hyderabad. In addition to engineering colleges, various institutes known as polytechnics offer a three year course in engineering. Gandhi Medical College and Osmania Medical College are the centers of medical education in Hyderabad. Colleges and universities in Hyderabad are run by either by state government, central government or private individuals or agencies. Hyderabad Central University, Nalsar, NIPER, Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, English and Foreign Languages University, Acharya N.G. Ranga Agricultural University, are some of the other universities located in Hyderabad.

Universe and sample:

There are 146 degree colleges offering undergraduate courses [B.Sc., B.Com, and B.A] situated at Hyderabad. Teachers working in these colleges are taken as universe for the present study. Most of these colleges are having academic consultants whose tenure is limited either to one term or one academic year. Academic consultants are not eligible for faculty development programmes of the University Grants Commission. Various programmes meant for faculty development are available for aided college teachers. Hence, the present study has selected aided college teachers working at Hyderabad as a sub category of the universe. At the outset, a focused group interview is conducted in order to collect information as to the willingness to train oneself for internationalization of higher education. Out of 150 lecturers participated in this focused group interview fifty were selected as sample for the present study by using random sampling method.

Data for the present study is collected by using in-depth interview method with the help of a schedule. Information as to the socio-economic characteristics of the respondents, educational achievements, awareness of national and global career structures, research culture, working conditions, information as to the strategies adapted by the college in order to equip for internationalization is collected. Data collection is done during the months of march-may 2010.

The qualitative information on awareness and availability of national and global career structures, strategies for integrating the international dimension, professional development, needs post-doctoral research culture, refresher courses and working conditions was collected by using case study method by using in-depth interviews.

National and global career structures:

Kaulisch and Enders [2005, pp.131-32] note that faculty work is shaped by three overlapping sets of institutions: 1] the generic science system, and systems in each discipline which to a varying extent are cross-national, emphasize the autonomy and mobility of researchers, and foster competition based on scholarly merit and prestige; 2] rules about work, competition and careers, where academic work is embedded in national policy and cultural settings; and 3] the organizational operations of universities, which both reflect national and local traditions and are touched by common trends such as massification, growing expectations about social relevance and the nationally-parallel global transformations. A fourth element in the mix that might be of growing importance is the impact of internationalization and globalization on academic careers.

The present study finds that the available opportunities for the teaching faculty are based on all these four elements. Most of the respondents experienced interplay of all these elements in their work life. More than fifty per cent of the respondents felt that the massification of education is burdensome and acting as an obstacle for faculty improvement.

Faculty mobility has long been a positive professional norm though varying by nation and field [El-Khawas, 2002, pp.242-43] and also varying somewhat in motive. A small number of researchers have expertise and reputations that confer superior opportunities in many countries. However, most teaching faculty have primarily national careers and use cross-border experience to advance their position at home, traveling mostly at the doctoral and postdoctoral stages and for short visits. A third group consists of faculty with lesser opportunities at home compared to abroad, due to remuneration or conditions of work, the denial of national careers due to social or cultural closure, or an economic freeze on hiring. This group has less transformative potential than elite researchers.

Excellence in education will require improvement in infrastructure, well-crafted courses, e-learning materials, access to laboratories, computational facilities and above all well-trained and highly motivated teachers. When asked about the availability of resources and opportunities for research, 78 per cent of the respondents opined that there are many bottlenecks. In most of the colleges, e-learning, internet facilities are not available. Even their college libraries mostly will have books useful for the undergraduate students rather than useful for further research by the teaching faculty. Most of the respondents felt that they are not exposed to the pedagogical methods acceptable internationally. Hence, their awareness about the teaching methods is not much. At the same time, they were not trained in teaching-learning process relevant for internationalized educational system while doing their post-graduation or pre-doctoral/doctoral level.

Strategies for integrating the internal dimension:

There are many ways to describe the initiatives which are undertaken to internationalize an institution. They are often referred to as activities, components, procedures or strategies. In the process oriented approach to internationalization, emphasis is placed on the concept of enhancing and sustaining the international dimensions of research. Most of the colleges in general, autonomous colleges and colleges with potential for excellence are following the process oriented approach. Yet, the faculty is not ready to equip themselves for this internationalization. The reasons mentioned by the respondents include more work, fear of losing job, lengthy working hours, high aided-unaided teaching faculty ratio, low job satisfaction levels and lack of facilities at the institutional level.

Professional Development Needs

Faculty members, or academic staff, as they are called in many countries, constitute a critical ingredient influencing the quality and effectiveness of higher education institutions. Universities in the developing world cannot respond to external changes and pressures without the involvement of capable, committed, and knowledgeable faculty members. The challenge for many faculty members, however, is that they are being asked to fulfill tasks and assume roles for which they are not adequately prepared. Besides, there are not many training centers to well equip them. Academic staff colleges are providing refresher and orientation courses but these courses are attended by those whose promotions are linked with attending refresher courses.

Post-doctoral research culture

Unlike the advanced countries, where a large pool of post-doctoral research fellows carries out the bulk of high-quality research, there is a near total absence of a post-doctoral culture in India.79 per cent of the respondents expressed their willingness to pursue post-doctoral research but said that they are not able to do due to financial problems.

Although the number of women at post-graduate and doctoral levels in various universities is high, very few of them make sufficient advance in their careers for a variety of social reasons. Women teachers and teachers studied in vernacular medium felt that though they are interested their family responsibilities and problem of language and communication act as major challenges for them.

Conclusion:

Higher education in India has entered into a new phase with the invasion of foreign universities and increasing aspirations of Indian students. This has created a need to revive the pedagogical methods. But the question still remains, whether the teaching faculty are ready to accept these changes or not? It is found in the present study that the teachers are ready to accept the challenges of global teaching. The need of the hour is to equip Indian teachers than permitting the foreign universities to establish their campuses in India. This requires a appropriate teacher education which can address the issue of organizational learning.

Charles A. Peck, Chrysan Gallucci, Tine Sloan and Ann Lippincott [2009] illustrated some ways in which contemporary socio-cultural learning theory may be used as a lens for addressing the issues of organizational learning in teacher education. Using a theoretical framework developed by Harré [1984], they showed how processes of individual and collective learning led to changes in a teacher education program. Important innovations in program practice were generally found to have their sources in the creative work of individual faculty. However program level changes required negotiation of new ideas and practices within small groups of faculty, and with the larger collective of the program. The present study would like to conclude that the Harré model, and the socio-cultural learning theories from which it is derived, may offer a useful theoretical framework for interpreting complex social processes underlying organizational renewal, innovation, and change.

References:

El-Khawas, E. 2002 “Developing Academic Career in a Globalizing World”, in J.Enders and O. Fulton [ed.] Higher Education in a Gobalizing World: International Trends and Muual Observations, Kluwer, Dordrecht, pp.242-54

Charles A. Peck, Chrysan Gallucci, Tine Sloan and Ann Lippincott [2009] Organizational learning and program renewal in teacher education: A socio-cultural theory of learning, innovation and change, Educational Research Review Volume 4, Issue 1, 2009, Pages 16-25

Harré, R. (1984). Personal being: A theory for individual psychology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

How Do You Measure the True Value of Higher Education?

I have written numerous articles about best practices for educators to use when teaching adult students, and I have enjoyed conversations that have begun as a result of comments posted. Several of the comments that have been written in response to my articles have discussed aspects of higher education that seem to be broken or in need of repair. I understand those perspectives and I have respect for anyone who wants to discuss important issues in this field. For example, I have read many articles recently about adjuncts, especially online adjuncts, related to issues concerning pay, course size, and job security. I know that the for-profit online school industry has come under great scrutiny. In contrast, there is a non-profit online school that is gaining popularity by offering competency-based degree programs resembling correspondence-based courses.

If you aren’t familiar with the original concept of a correspondence course, it was popular in the 1970s and usually consisted of a participant being mailed study materials and a test or assessment that had to be completed and mailed back in. There may have been lectures to watch on public television at a particular time of day as part of the program. Once the requirements were met, a certificate of completion was mailed. I have spoken with several people who have completed degrees with the non-profit online school mentioned above and the reason why I compare it to a correspondence course is that it is possible to complete classes without ever having to interact with an instructor. The only requirement for course completion is to pass a final assessment, with a pass or fail option in place of a grade, and the passing grade is often set with a percentage as low as 55%, which is a failing grade for most traditional colleges.

With all of the issues surrounding the field of higher education, the question then becomes: Is it possible to still earn a degree, one that holds value for students? More importantly, is it possible to measure the true value of a degree in higher education? I believe the answer begins with a matter of purpose and by that, I mean schools should be working to ensure that educational programs and courses are designed with a specific purpose and completed for a specific purpose by the students. Educators should also see this as a matter of importance as they develop their instructional strategies and work with students in the classroom. It may sound too idealistic and improbable to implement; however, there is something that every educator can do to ensure that their students are working towards this goal of purposeful-driven education. What I will focus on is the educator’s perspective and strategies that can increase value for students.

My Experience in Higher Education

While working for one of the larger for-profit online schools, students stated to me hundreds of times in their introductions that once they completed their associate’s degree they would be able to purchase a new house, new car, and earn a six-figure income. I do not know if that was their belief when they began their degree program, and I do not want to blame anyone if that wasn’t their initial belief; however, students need to have realistic expectations. For these students, a degree was almost like a lottery ticket to a better life. While they were not really certain how that transformation was supposed to occur, they were convinced that it would happen upon graduation.

I can also share an example of my own continuing education. I enrolled in a traditional MBA program as I was planning to relocate and I knew that I was going to start my own small business as a consultant and writer. I also knew that historically a MBA graduate was highly-sought after; however, that has changed over time. Obtaining a MBA no longer guaranteed a certain job or career. What I acquired after graduation was a knowledge base that would inform my small business practice, help develop my business acumen, and continue to inform my teaching practice.

The next degree I sought was also done for a specific purpose and it was focused on adult education, as I was working in the field of higher education and had goals established. I knew going into my doctorate degree program exactly what I wanted accomplish once I had graduated, and how the acquired knowledge would enhance my teaching practice and serve as professional development for my career. In other words, I did not expect that the degree itself was going to do something for me, as people often do when they invest their time and finances in a degree, I knew what I was going to do with that degree – and that is how I was going to gain value from it.

The question that I keep in mind now is this: How do I help students also gain this type of value from their degree, especially if they do not start out with a purpose in mind?

What Does It Mean to Create Value?

I have worked for many online schools that have told their students to be sure to relate the concepts they are studying to the real world, without providing any further explanation or set of instructions. The phrase “real world” is being used so much now by schools that administrators believe everyone knows what it means, and I am not convinced that students actually understand it from the same perspective. The real world for students may involve trying to make ends meet, working to support a family, and balancing many responsibilities – while in contrast, schools want students to see bigger issues. Many of these same schools also give their instructors similar guidelines and tell them to relate the course concepts to the real world as they write course announcements, provide feedback, and engage students in class discussions.

As a faculty development specialist and educator in higher education myself, I well understand the wide range of possibilities that an application of course concepts to the real world can involve. In other words, how I view the real world and the issues surrounding it may be vastly different than someone else who holds a different position, skillset, academic background, and set of experiences than I do. This means that simply telling instructors to apply topics to the real world does not necessarily mean value is being created for their students. How someone defines the real world now is a matter of importance and that can vary from one individual to another, and students may not always relate to the reality of their instructors – and that means another solution must be found if relevance is the key to creating value. Below are some strategies that I have implemented in my online classes to help create value for students.

Purpose, Vision Statement: I believe that a purpose statement exercise is one of the most helpful projects that an educator can implement, if a connection can be made to the course and there is flexibility allowed in the course curriculum. When I have utilized this as an activity, I have asked students to define, redefine, expand, elaborate upon, and share the purpose for their degree program. I then have an opportunity to help work on mentoring students and adjusting, if even slightly, their expectations. When I provide instructions for this activity, I will ask them to share some research related to the career outlook for any of the jobs they may be interested in.

A vision statement activity can be implemented in conjunction with a purpose statement exercise, or used as a standalone activity, as a means of encouraging students to look ahead and define what they are working towards in realistic and specific terms. This activity can be useful for students who are visual or prefer to write out their goals. If a student is visually oriented, they can express their vision as a series of steps and find images to represent each goal. For written goals, students can provide details that go beyond stating something general, such as “I will earn a six-figure income” – and describe specific steps to be taken after graduation.

Collaboration: If you want students to begin to understand what the real world is like, try to find a way to have them collaborate together in small groups. What this does is to have them experience difference perspectives, opinions, and experiences. While some students may not be open to listening to or accepting what others have to say, and may even argue against them, eventually they will realize that there are other versions of reality that exist. While this may prompt conflict, and the group may never fully function together in the manner that you would like for them to in the short term, it is possible that this can serve as a trigger and prompt higher order thinking.

Projects: Project-based learning or PBL is popular with many educators and I can certainly understand why as it effectively demonstrates how students have taken and applied what they are learning throughout the class term. In addition, they are creating a portfolio, often stored through electronic means, that can be shown to potential employers as evidence of work product produced as part of the degree program. In other words, PBL prompts more that rote memorization of course concepts.

Case Studies: This is one of the most popular methods for implementing a real-world approach to learning. There are many case studies available for instructors and many more than can be found through online resources. These studies are usually related to businesses and can be used to prompt discussions and analyzation, leading to the use of critical thinking skills. This provides value as students are learning to think beyond the parameters of a textbook and apply what is being learned to what they may encounter in their careers.

Current Topics: Any time an instructor brings current topics into the classroom they are utilizing the real world. This provides context but not necessarily value. The value comes from how it is used and what students are doing with the information. More importantly, as with any activity there must be consideration given as to how it relates to the course, the learning objectives, and ultimately the degree program. For example, a current topic that is used as a springboard for application and analyzation of a course topic provides context and value for students.

As an educator, I am not going be able to change higher education by myself – whether it is the for-profit online school industry or the non-profit online school industry. As an adjunct online instructor, I am not going to be able to change existing courses and curriculum that I have been assigned to teach. Does this mean I should look at higher education as a system that is broken and beyond repair if I see nothing but problems? Should I feel hopeless if students are earning degrees that do not seem to hold the value they hoped to receive or may have been told they would receive? Absolutely not.

I can take every opportunity I have available to help teach my students how to define and redefine the purpose they have for their degree program – even as I am working to help them learn to relate and apply what they are learning to current topics and business issues. I measure value in higher education by the strategies I implement to help students find purpose and meaning as they are involved in the learning process. True value in higher education begins when I help engage students in the course and the learning process, and I implement purposeful-driven educational strategies.