The recent bankruptcy declaration by Kodak, one of the nation’s most trusted brands for consumers, which once held a market share in excess of 90 percent, is stunning. Kodak mistook America’s century-long love affair with its products as a sign of market permanency, missing the fact that camera phones, flip cameras and online sharing would erode its brand and render it irrelevant.
American higher education should take heed because it is facing a similar challenge, with implications far more important than the loss of a major corporation.
To ensure the nation’s long-term economic health, we need an ever-growing supply of college graduates. But right now, the nation’s colleges and universities are not inspiring the confidence and market responsiveness to make that a reality.
For proof, look at the growing questions about whether higher education has priced itself out of the emerging market for skills and knowledge. Or read the recent research questioning the learning outcomes of students. One widely cited study says far too many students are “drifting through college without a clear sense of purpose.”
It’s also hard to dismiss the growing number of countries with college-attainment rates that far surpass our own, such as South Korea, where 63 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds are graduates, compared to less than 40 percent of their American counterparts.
Higher education has served the country’s economic and social needs well for more than a century. In a recent Gallup/Lumina Foundation poll, the vast majority of Americans said they think getting a college degree is critical to their economic well-being. But a majority questioned whether colleges and universities were able to deliver job-relevant learning, and most questioned whether rising prices are sustainable.