College Productivity

In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, “Colleges Need a Business Productivity Audit” (28 December), authors Frank Mussano and Robert Iosue argue that colleges should be audited as business are “to identify unprofitable practices.” Audits are the answer to structural problems when one knows nothing about process improvement. While audits, done well, can be helpful in identify problems and providing single-point direction for corrective actions, they do not normally results in a fundamental re-evaluation of processes and the go-to-market strategy.

In the case of higher education, the prevailing view has been that it is a non-competitive sellers’ market. This was a major strategic error because it assumed that markets would not one day turn into competitive buyers’ markets. As a result, costs have risen dramatically over the last 15-20 years. But now, people are not willing to pay the high tuition prices that they once willingly accepted.

But, what is most remarkable about Mussano and Robert Iosue’s opinion article is the comments made by readers, all of whom have at least earned an undergraduate degree. The comments show that the real failure of higher education, whether the tuition price is low or high, is an inability to think critically. Teacher get an “F” for their efforts to teach people how to think critically. Graduates get an “F ” for not applying critical thinking that they learned in college (and in earlier years of schooling).

Many comments starkly reveal poor critical thinking skills. For example:

  • The effect, high tuition prices, is due to a singular cause such as government tuition subsidies.
  • The state Department of Motor Vehicles is inefficient, therefore all federal government agencies are inefficient.
  • Federal bureaucracies have the lowest productivity.
  • High administrative labor costs are the result of government control (rules and regulations).
  • For-profit colleges are more efficient that not-for-profit because they are for-profit.
  • Academics have too much power over administrators.
  • High costs are the result of progressives running higher education institutions.
  • High costs are the result of many faux studies programs.

As teachers, we can do a better job of making it clear to students that critical thinking is not just something one does while in school and forgets about upon graduation. It is a practical approach to comprehending a problem and identifying practical solutions in the real world.

For example, federal and state bureaucracies, agencies, etc., have low productivity (and high costs) due to batch-and-queue material and information processing, not simply because they are bureaucracies. If students were taught this, then that would open the door to inquiry as to how to improve processes in was that increase productivity (and reduce costs) without harming people (workers, customers, etc.).

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