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Unknown And No Longer Optional

In his first address to Congress, our new President said that a college education was no longer optional. Education is a high priority and an important driver for the recovery of our economy. When we talk about a “college education,” we seem to know exactly what we’re talking about. We know about the Ivy League schools, the great technical schools, the football schools, the party schools, the medical schools, the law schools and the business schools. We need to learn to learn, and that’s what a college education seems to be good for. If adaptive behavior is the key to survival in a changing environment, then learning how to adapt would be a requirement for prospering in uncertain times.

Just we all seem to agree that everyone must have one– that it’s no longer optional, Mark C. Taylor throws the whole thing into question. I’m sure he doesn’t question that we all must have one, he simply questions what a college education is– or rather what it should be in this emerging network culture. He outlines his ideas in a piece for the NY Times. In brief, here are his six points:

  1. Restructure the curriculum, beginning with the graduate program and proceeding as quickly as possible to undergraduate programs. The division-of-labor model of separate departments is obsolete and must be replaced with a curriculum structures like a web or complex adaptive network.
  2. Abolish permanent departments, even for undergraduate education, and create problem focused programs. These constantly evolving programs would have sunset clauses, and every seven years, each one should be evaluated and either abolished, continued or significantly changed. Possible topics might include: Mind, Body, Law, Information, Networks, Language, Space, Time, Media, Money, Life and Water.
  3. Increase collaboration among institutions. All institutions do not need to do all things and technology makes it possible for schools to form partnerships to share students and faculty. Institutions will be able to expand while contracting.
  4. Transform the traditional dissertation. Do not write traditional traditional papers or graduate theses, rather develop analytic treatments in formats from hypertext and Web sites to films and video games.
  5. Expand the range of professional options for graduate students. Most graduate students will never hold the kind of job for which they are being trained.
  6. Impose mandatory retirement and abolish tenure. Tenure should be replaced with seven year contracts, which like the programs in which faculty teach, can be terminated or renewed.

Is our emerging network culture really still emerging? Oprah is on Twitter. The Web is already primarily social and is moving fast. The public relations and marketing industries are scrambling to transform themselves to be operational in a two-way many-to-many network grid. Our students are already networked. Imagine if our universities were not only institutions of learning, but also learning institutions– adaptive in the mode we intend our students to be.

Published in collaboration culture education network value


  1. Degrees seem to carry a value as a “token” that is completely unrelated to their substance. Until there's a radical revaluation of the meaning and value of a college education– there won't be change. The “token” — a sort of poll tax, will accepted at all fine business establishments.

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