San Jose State University and the New Economics of Higher Education

September 28, 2012 - 5 Comments

Public higher education institutions in America are being squeezed with vice-like force unlike anything they’ve experienced before.  Legislatures are reducing their funding, for profit and not-for-profit competitors are proliferating and many civic and business leaders are questioning the very value of a college diploma.  University presidents and the regents or boards they serve are stuck in an “iron triangle”:  on one angle is access, their raison d’être and why their respective legislature chartered them in the first place – educate the people in our state. On the other angle is cost, which using conventional thinking rises when one provides access to the masses. The third angle is quality, which also is thought to be compromised when access – and costs – rises. What’s a university leader to do?

Invest his/her way out of the “iron triangle” and change the economics.  This is precisely what President Mohammad “Mo” Qayoumi of San Jose State University (SJSU) is doing.

Faced with the first cap on admissions in the 155-year history of the university, President Mo understands that infrastructure thoughtfully applied can restore balance to his business model.  Currently SJSU – like most public higher ed universities – has a traditional business model focused on bricks-and-mortar delivery of instruction, which requires a traditional funding model whereby its legislature pays the lions-share of the cost.  While this funding model has shifted over the last 20 years, the delivery model has not, thus creating a grossly misaligned business model.

What has changed dramatically in the last 20 years is information technology (IT), which now enables businesses of all kinds to scale their delivery and business models across geographies and serve new customers.  The higher education customer has also changed, as this current class of students has been raised on the internet and IT and expects a different delivery model.  Enter President Mo!

“Never before in the history of higher education has technology provided such important challenges and opportunities. We must reinvent teaching, learning and educational delivery systems,” he says. Over the next 18-24 months SJSU will develop a total of 51 next-generation learning spaces with all the equipment needed to enable high-definition recording, indexing and transcription of lectures and classroom experiences, and eleven next-generation learning spaces will be completed in Fall 2012, with the remaining 40 to be completed by the start of fall 2013.  SJSU is also supporting faculty in using and applying next-generation technologies to better support students’ learning by partnering with corporate neighbors and other cutting-edge educational efforts such as Harvard-MIT-UC Berkeley’s edX and Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative.

These infrastructure investments will enable President Mo to create a more dynamic “blended” learning environment that is tailored to 21st-century learners.  Rather than spending 3-4 days in traditional classrooms on campus they will spend 2-3 days, with the balance being “blended” learning leveraging online tools of many kinds.  As the university perfects this model, over time President Mo will be able to increase the number of students under his revised delivery model, thereby increasing revenue disproportionate to cost and increasingquality at the same time. His vision and his urgency for change are attracting attention; check out the recent radio interview by Cisco director Renee Patton regarding SJSU’s effort.

Most universities in America today confront their financial challenges by attacking administrative costs. While admirable, they are trying to solve a larger problem by tacking one-third of their costs – administration.  The larger challenge – and cost area – is the other two-thirds:  the delivery model.  I commend President Mo and his leadership team for understanding the new economics of higher ed, for recognizing that technology changes everything, and for attacking “the big two-thirds.”  Very few institutions have been brave, or informed, enough to try such a fix.

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  1. education in all fields of life is very important so we have to get education in our life.

  2. the education is very in era . specialy computer education is very important for earning and spent life comfortabley

  3. Fixing the “delivery model” will not help their primary problem – SJSU has too many incompetent teachers. I know, because I took a class in Telecommunications and the teacher, retired IBM, would mark down any paper which did not use IBM equipment “in all phases” of the project! Several of my fellow students rebelled at the temerity – and used all non-IBM solutions, but we never scored very high on our papers – it’s OK, though, because we excelled on tests. And because I was a teacher in the public school system – I also questioned the foolish requirements that a teaching credential required – especially the requirement that I pass a class in nutrition. I never had a student ask me a nutritional question – I believe a class on self-defense would be better because every year I would have a student (or more than one) want to fight me! I am sure most SJSU teachers are competent but overwhelmed. I eventually learned that a “sheepskin” is only valuable to those who are ignorant, especially to an ignorant employer. Does the term “paper CNA” mean anything to you? CISCO is a proud purveyor of “paper CNAs” and I would not be surprised they are supporting this venture.

    • Hi Greg. Sounds like your SJSU experience could have been better, and something the President there IS endeavoring to improve. Part of his fundamental challenge is that all CSU and UC campuses have tenured, unionized faculty and thus moving this group to change/adapt/improve/modernize can be a tough. I give credit to President Mo for having the guts to try and break the mold; very few university presidents in America are following his lead…yet! Thank you for your response.

  4. Well thats something really good to know. The President of SJSU has done the right thing and that’s leveraging the power of technology into creating new learning opportunities for students. Not only will this result into cost savings but better concepts can be built in students mind due to flexibility in learning mediums.