The world has entered “exponential times,” and American higher education is struggling to prepare people for the 21st century using 13th century techniques.
That was the chilling assessment given members of the Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce Friday by Texas State Technical College West Texas President Mike Reeser during the chamber’s monthly membership luncheon.
But it’s not all gloomy, he said, because leaders in higher education are beginning to understand what changes must be made.
“In higher education, and in K through 12, we have situation in which we continue to assume that fundamental institutions that have carried us through centuries are unchangeable,” Reeser said. “India and China are about to kick our tails economically, and we’ve got to maintain our edge through innovation.”
Reeser, assisted by an educators’ slide show called “Shift Happens” created two years ago for a Colorado high school teachers’ in-service, pointed to three specific themes in his remarks.
“First, if you think things are changing quickly now, you have no idea now quickly things will be changing,” Reeser said. “Then, things that are happening are a global shift. It’s not about just Brown County any more, but it’s global, and it’s not going to stop. And it will affect Brown County.
“Finally, these changes are so profound they are shaking what we consider unshakable paradigms in our culture. Higher education as the place where we prepare people for tomorrow is woefully behind on these issues.”
Reeser bombarded the audience with a series of statistics reflecting the rapid growth of the Internet and the accumulation of educational and technological expertise in India and China. For example, half the people in the world live in those two countries, and that India graduates 2 1/2 times the number of college students as the United States, and all of them speak English. In the next 10 years, China will become the largest English-speaking nation in the world.
“Today only one in four workers has been at the job now held for one year, and one in two for five years,” Reeser said. “Today’s workers can expect to have 10 to 14 jobs before they are 38. Kids we’re raising today won’t have careers as we know it. How is going to college for four years going to prepare them?”
He said those working in medicine, law and accounting understand that continual education is the key to relevance.
“But today, even constant learning may not be fast enough,” Reeser added.
He pointed to the power of the Internet, showing growth in searches, retail sales and total clicks “going vertical,” or rising rapidly after a short period of near horizontal increases.
Education for centuries has been dispensed by universities built around libraries where knowledge is stored, and shared by “wise guys who help you find the answers. It’s been virtually unchanged for hundreds of years.”
What must be done?
“We’re about to go vertical in education,” Reeser said. Quoting Albert Einstein, he said, “We can’t solve problems using the same kind of thoughts we used when we created them. We have new problems, challenges and capabilities. We have to throw away the old solutions and adapt to vertical paradigms.”
Reeser described the statistics as a wake-up call for what higher education needs to do for the college students of the 21st century.
“College will not be a place, it will be a process,” Reeser said. “The good news is, some people get it. They want to move toward teaching people to use these tools, not stuffing their heads with facts. They must teach students how to think critically, collaborate with each other and use the tools have available.”