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Access & Innovation in Higher Ed: Partnerships or Outsourcing?

The higher education institution is slow to change (as compared to corporate sector) and is often criticized for delivering irrelevant and outdated content. Critics of the current higher education landscape argue that the overemphasis on job outcomes, lavish student services and overall rising costs contribute to a lack of innovation in higher education. Higher ed insiders tout how colleges and universities must work towards building new knowledge and promote innovation. Researchers suggest that disruption will cripple higher education unless there is change from within, while others support external collaborative initiatives and revised curriculum changes focused on technology to support job growth and outcomes. The growing trend in higher education addresses the need for innovation which is supported through external partnerships outside the academe. But as I consider the concept of partnerships, what's happening in some cases is really the outsourcing of education through certain established partnerships.

EdTech startups like Trilogy, 2U, Udacity and Coursera have developed collaborative agreements with well-known colleges to deliver courses, certificates and credentials. Question: Why would large and reputable institutions need to partner with external organizations to deliver educational services? A loaded question? Yes. But to be fair the answers are complex and vary depending on the college's mission and goals , which may include the need to pivot and offer trending content outside the areas of expertise of current faculty. Another reason could be that it is likely faster to partner with external educational providers rather than go through a very bureaucratic (slow) curriculum change process. However, let's be real for a moment, the common thread is likely related to revenue and profit. I will pause here because it's a rabbit hole deeper than this blog offers. But ponder the question: why do colleges outsource education? There is a theme here though and it does not stop at traditional four-year colleges partnering with external companies.

In recent news, big tech companies, Google and Microsoft, will partner with U.S. community colleges to expand workforce development in tech. Google is partnering with community colleges and career/tech high schools to offer free certificates in IT and data analytics, project management and user experience design. Microsoft recently launched a cybersecurity recruitment initiative through a community college partnership. These collaborations are projected to create direct workforce pipelines, for in-demand careers in the digital space. Underrepresented groups in tech are the target audience for these certificates. However, I am curious about the outcomes, potential drawbacks, and the catch. Will Google, Microsoft, or other tech players actually hire these graduates post-certificate completion? According to both Google and Microsoft, that's the plan. Sounds like a win-win for both the tech industry and community colleges but more importantly, it's a win for accessibility. This move expands career access opportunities for community college and high school students to get a foot in the door at major tech companies.

Through partnerships, institutions create pipelines and pathways which expand career access opportunities and offer innovative course options for students to help them become marketable in a competitive labor force. However, where is the line for when collaboration becomes a crutch or could be considered outsourcing? In academia, we loath loafers. Will higher education price itself out of the education market and into irrelevance once the informed student realizes they can go directly to the EdTech provider for faster outcomes in less time? There is a price for outsourcing and will higher education recognize the need to develop true partnerships that do not turn into competitive disadvantages?


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