Quality Education Charade

It seems whenever a college or university is criticized for tuition increases, the defense given is: “This allows us to provide the high-quality education that students and families deserve.” Everyone accepts that without question – with no critical thinking. Hmmm.

Of course, quality in higher education is loosely defined and poorly measured. Despite this, the near-universal claim by colleges and universities that the education they offer is “high quality” bears close scrutiny. Fundamentally, any service that is offered via batch-and-queue processes will be not only low quality, but also high cost compared to what it could be if the service was offered via flow (smaller batches, and no queues).

My experience in developing Lean Teaching and the simple data that I have collected suggest that higher education (both academic and administrative processes, must be significantly improved before one can claim it is “high quality.” Then, continuously improved thereafter.

Have a look at my data and I think you will see that the claim of “high quality” is based more on perception than on facts:

Of course, my surveys should be replicated on a larger scale to test the accuracy of the findings. Nevertheless, I am certain they are directionally correct and identify real problems large and small that degrade the quality of higher education and increase its costs.

But, in order to improve, one has to recognize the existence of problems. College and university administrators cannot lead improvement if they don’t now about problems. The question, then, is why don’t they know about these problems?

In most cases, there is some sort of organizational dysfunction that prevents leaders from seeing problems, plus a perception that the rudimentary problems identified in my surveys were corrected long ago. Invariably, along with that are some forward-looking initiatives that are perceived as vital to the success of the institution, and which take precedence over backward-looking recurring process problems that negatively affect students, payers, faculty, and staff.

In other words, there is a remarkable lack of critical thinking in higher education. It is ironic that segments of higher education could fail due to a lack of critical thinking. It is further evidence that they have graduated defective products, for they are victims of the system that they have perpetuated.

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