The last 3 years and 800 posts of this blog have been a journey for me in my understanding about how education is changing and why. At first I was mostly concerned with high technology and it’s implications but I have begun to see a larger picture at work and I wanted to lay this out. I feel like this will take several posts so let me begin.
I’ll start with the premise that the education system has evolved to serve a particular need in society. A hundred years ago that need was two fold. 1. To create factory workers for the Industrial Revolution. and 2. To create a standardized citizenry who tend to conform, therefore are easier to govern. For the first 50 years or so I think this system did exactly that and was what the country needed. After World War 2 though, technology began to change society. Once we hit 1970, the next major economic force, Information Technologies was being born. It didn’t really affect much for a few decades but once the Internet was made public in the mid 1990s things began to change at an ever increasing pace.
Now as I see it society (especially US society) is a function of two competing forces; Economics and Regulation. Economics in a free economy is the natural impulse of individuals to better themselves and their families by creating value added things to sell to society. In order to multiply the amount of work that can be done, often these individuals form companies and hire others to help realize these visions. It’s important to note that only the people at the top though truly benefit from this extra work. It’s their risk therefore it’s their reward. The workers benefit to a certain extent because they get paid but they are not risking much usually. College was created to train specialists in certain fields such as medicine. It also was used to train management for factories, but overall it was only intended for maybe 10-15% of the workforce.
Regulation happens when the government needs to step in to curb individuals and companies who are trying to make money in ways that are counter to societies best interests. Now this is a huge gray area. Who is to say what societies best interests are? In addition, government has grow so large that it’s influence is reaching into every area of society. Many large companies are realizing that if they lobby the government, they can get laws passed that benefit them and harm their competitors. Worse, many in government now see government as a way to right perceived inequities in society. Some of these inequities do exist however they have existed for all of human history. Government tends to make these worse in the course of trying to help alleviate them. Currently it is estimated by some that government regulations are costing the country $1.8 Trillion dollars in GDP and there are huge amounts being added every year.
Still, economics is a powerful force. Although the government keeps trying to make a utopia, money trumps all. So here are the current conditions around the world.
- Over the last 50 years, governments have made promises to their citizens for certain entitlements in exchange for political power. These entitlements are now unsustainable.
- Governments have fewer and fewer options left to them as the economies of the world start to run out of money. One option is to take it from the private sector. Currently the US government takes about 25% of total US GDP to function (the highest since WW2).
I don’t believe this is just an economic crisis that will go away like the previous ones, this one is different. Economics therefore will force a change and in fact already is.
Tomorrow let’s deal with the state of higher education and how business is reacting to the economic climate.