In a recent article titled "AT&T and Udacity partner to create the ‘nanodegree,’ a new type of college degree," Gregory Ferenstein describes an interesting new approach to the college degree: the nanodegree. What I find most interesting about the article and will comment on is this part:
"Last year, on stage with California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun announced a new consortium of businesses, the Open Education Alliance, that would agree to recognize an industry-focused skills credential. The nanodegree is the first product of that promise, together with many of the original partners, from AT&T to Autodesk.
“It’s a failure of the community college system, the California state system, and the University of California system that that announcement was made,” said Newsom, who believes California education should do more to address the widening skills gap."
In particular take note of Newsom's comment: "It's a failure of the community college system, the California state system, and the University of California system that that announcement was made." Presumably a failure because these state institutions did not come up with the idea on their own.
It should come as no surprise that such large bureaucracies did not come up with such an innovative idea or if they did, they could not effectively and efficiently implement it. It's simply not one of the strengths of large bureaucracies to do this. Any ideas like the nanodegree that originate within a large academic institution have a long and arduous process to go through before they gain acceptance and implementation. Often they must suffer through long committee processes designed, from what I can tell, to kill such ideas.
Having served on such academic committees and tried getting ideas through them I speak from some experience. But, can we entirely fault a system that is not set up to promote innovation for failing to come up with innovative ideas and act on them?
One way or another higher education will be going through some major disruptive innovation over the next 5-10 years. The question I have been raising in whatever forum will provide an opportunity is whether colleges and universities will contribute to this innovation or will they simply remain on the sideline and in denial about what is happening all around them. I suspect that for the most part it will be the latter and as more innovative ideas like nanodegrees come about we will see more failures of other community college and state university systems. Those inside these institutions have been warned!