Four Ideas For Reforming Higher Education Policy-Making

College students are looking for fresh perspectives, schools with their best interest in mind, and a place to grow academically and professionally in higher education. While many institutions have been serving students for decades (even centuries!), there is always room for improvement.

Contemporary Curriculum

Some skills are necessary for any profession and are usually embedded in first-year seminars, but is this enough? Are institutions giving future professionals the current and up-to-date skills required to enter the ever-changing job market?

In today’s global market, more skills are needed by entry-level professionals than ever before. These skills include sensitivity to different cultures, understanding new technologies, and marrying trends from different fields and applying the blended approach appropriately. When developing the curriculum, institutions need to focus on the here and now, while keeping characteristics of tried and true practices as part of instruction.

Academics and Workplace Experience

Many times students will question why they need to take a specific class, and the answer is usually “because it is a requirement.” That does not seem like a valid enough reason to take a particular course. Instead, classes should make sense and contribute to the student’s academic progression. Having a variety of courses in a program is necessary because of the different patterns of thinking and different skills that are ignited in various classes; however, a student looking to focus their study on Mathematics should not be required to take courses such as a foreign language or dance.

While both would be good to take for variation, the overall skill gain is minimal because the student does not see value in either course. Time would be better spent on a course that included information such as the history of numbers as it directly correlates to the subject matter, yet looks at it from a different perspective and deepens the understanding of Mathematics as a whole.

To supplement the in-class learning, students also need varied exposure to the job market. Not all students who major in Mathematics end up in a math-based career, not all pre-law students end up in law school, and not all History majors become historians. The question then becomes, “What do I do with this degree?” Without different real-world exposure, many students do not find the answer when they enter the job market. Higher education institutions can alleviate this stress by providing students with varying types of workforce experience embedded in programs.

Attainable Accountability Measures

Without accountability, students lose. Instructors should be responsible for the content that is delivered and should also be held accountable for making the information relevant. To give their students the best opportunities to succeed, instructors should foster ingenuity and encourage innovation in a given field. Too many times, students are graded and rewarded on their compliance rather than obtaining necessary information.

Instead of rewarding instructors for high scores on end of semester assessments, add in other factors such as student absenteeism, end-of-semester professor ratings from students, and comments put forth by students. A professor amassing numerous student complaints is not serving the students in a reasonable capacity and, thus, should be held accountable for his teaching.

Improving Quality of Instructors

When deciding to take a class of any sort, participants and students expect the instructor to be of the highest quality. However, this is not always true. Some instructors are out of touch with current trends, others are learning who they are as a professor, and others may not necessarily have a propensity to be an instructor but are in the profession. No matter the circumstance, improving the quality of instruction not only gives the professional a better understanding of his position but also allows students to grow along with the instructor.

One way to improve the quality of instructors is with reward. Instructors are currently not rewarded for building relationships with the surrounding community. If they were, there would be a positive impact in the classroom, in the city, and on students’ learning. Students can, in turn, create a connection between the classroom, the experience, and their future. Some of these community-based connections may give students career opportunities post-graduation.

Small changes in policy can lead to massive gains for instructors, students, and the reputation of the school. Extending beyond the classroom encourages students to bridge the gap between rote school memorization to pass a test and implementation of the skills acquired during instruction.

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