Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Product of Higher Education

Again, this is a series of posts related to my discussion on designing higher education organizations by product, as opposed to function. So, let's talk about the product of higher education. What is the product? Many deem the product to be the student, and others believe it is education. I consider the product of higher education to be the credential - form of currency. As a potential employee, I can hand you a bachelor degree credential from Harvard, or I can hand you one from State University. Both in concept appear to be the same credential - currency. However, you as an employer have an understanding that you will have to pay more for the Harvard credential. The person makes no difference, nor the knowledge the person actually brings to the table. It's all understood in the currency he or she brings to trade for real dollars in wages.

And that's where we will remain in this framework to understand my point about organizing higher education by product, as opposed to function. For universities that remain fairly consistent in the credentials they produce, function can be a more efficient way to structure the organization. This approach is even justified by the works of Walker and Lorsch, as well as Burns and Stalker. Community colleges, on the other hand, are extremely fluid in the types of credentials offered in any given semester, and thus lend themselves to more efficient organization based on product. So, I argue that the community college structure may have some better forms of efficiency if there was more emphasis, value, on the product form of organizational structure.

I understand there will be many arguments that emphasize the constraints of this approach, and the potential myopic view I have by this decision. I will address these points at a later time. For now, I encourage you to give this some consideration, and begin thinking about the community college product, including applying useful analogies to strengthen the conversation. Think of the assembly line approach, and concepts such as time-to-completion, change-over costs, components, and other aspects of production. My next post will discuss the materials needed to produce this product/credential, in the form of a supply-chain and value-chain perspective. I believe it will shed some better light on the concept of the nation's completion agenda.

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