20 October 2009

Effects of dropping out of college

From my perspective as a former college instructor and more recent mentor to college dropouts, four different sets of effects can follow dropping out of college. Two sets of repercussions are negative and two are positive. There's some choices you can make personally in this and some facets that may offer no choice at all.

Some college students have parents and siblings who are egomaniacs. These ego trippers see dropping out of college as something only "real losers" do. It's a clear cut issue with no middle ground in their minds. These family members will stigmatize dropouts for life as "obvious quitters who did not have what it takes to succeed in life". If this abuse gets internalized into the students' own identities, there's lots of trouble ahead for the former students. They will live inside an imposed story with no apparent escape. It will seem obvious to them that they are lacking traits, endurance and motivation. They will sell themselves short and expect things to work out better for others than themselves. They will be overly receptive to criticism and putdowns while shying away from praise and admiration. They will hang out with others who are in the same boat and pass up opportunities to outgrow the identity they acquired from ego tripping family members. For these students, dropping out of college is very costly in many more ways than financial terms.

Some college students over-estimate their abilities and set their goals too high. College will repeatedly burst their bubble and defeat their ambitions. The students will get the impression they are not trying hard enough. They will attempt to study more for tests, put in more hours on assignments and do whatever it takes to get better grades. Yet no matter what they do to stay in school, everything appears to work against them. Working under so much pressure, they will forget to look after their registration and financial aid details before it's too late. They will space out appointments and lose their keys or cellphone. The countless ways they mess up will result in their flunking out of college. These students will leave with chip on their shoulder. They will continually "go for the gold while complaining about their situation". Their continual sense of persecution will undermine their striving to get better jobs, income, housing and possessions. They will predictably try too hard to make a good impression, to get a promotion or to make a sale. When they flunked out, they learned "you cannot win in life no matter how hard you try". They didn't learn to set realistic goals and be satisfied with meeting them.

Some college students make realistic appraisals of their abilities and motivations. They realize they don't have what it takes to succeed in their chosen college major and career. The process of not finding themselves among all those college offerings and challenges works out well for them. They come to know themselves better by how they differ from those who do fit into college impressively. They become more attuned to their own natural interests and intrinsic motivations. They realize what they can do with feeling, soul or passion. They're happy to start at the bottom and work their way up because the work itself seems so rewarding. They find entry-level positions to get their foot in the door. There they meet others with similar passions, overhear inspiring conversations and see the inner workings of this field that lights their fire. They end up "knowing the business" better than college grads. They make a bigger difference to the field, to colleagues and to other people's lives with their phenomenal motivation.

Some college students realize that college is not working for them. They have a clear sense of what does and does not work for them. When something is not working for them, they fix it, change it or find something else that does work for them. These students are not fixated on making a lot of money or appearing prosperous to others. They are fascinated by how things work and how to make them work better. They realize that honing their sense of what works for them gives them insights into what works for others. They have what it takes to invent new products, formulate new services and launch innovative business models. Working together with others, they will see how to solve some of the problems, smooth out the processes and combine efforts more effectively. They will also spend their money on what works for them, not for show or lavish escapes. They will look back on dropping out of the college as one of the best decisions they ever made. It launched their life long commitment to doing what works for them and others.

From these four sets of effects, you can see it's not the actual "dropping out of college" that sets up the future. There's something going on in the situation at the time that becomes a life long pattern for better or for worse.

11 September 2009

Cost cutting can backfire

Answer #10 to the question: Why are college costs soaring?

Trying to save some money can cost us more money in the long run. Cutting costs can backfire. Instead of reducing costs, the cost-saving measures increase the costs. Lots of colleges and universities are caught up in this pattern. The more they try to reduce the costs of attending college, the more their efforts end up raising tuition and student fees.

When a solution to a problem backfires and makes a bigger problem, we usually don't realize what is the real problem. We have in mind trying harder to get results, which only makes things worse. We don't see we are "part of the problem" and nothing we do will provide a real solution. It's as if we're trying to put out a fire by pouring gasoline on the flames. We're grabbing more beach towels to dry off when we're standing in the rain. We're driving the car faster when a tire has gone flat.

When we become"part of the solution", we stop trying harder and start trying smarter. We get the message in what's going wrong and try something different. We lose confidence in what we're trying to do and gain curiosity about what is missing or misperceived. We change our mind before we make another go at changing the world. That usually requires admitting a mistake, which can be very difficult to do.

10 September 2009

The high cost of relentless centralization

Answer #9 to the question: Why are college costs soaring?

When we go on long car trips, we rely on a decentralized organization that makes the trip affordable. We utilize the network of gas stations for fuel, snacks and rest rooms. We patronize a network of restaurants or grocery stores for meals away from home. We also deploy nodes in a network of motels, hotels and campgrounds for overnight lodging. The trip is affordable because we do not need to own, manage or staff all those places we stop at.

Colleges and universities are structured like car trips that only make stops at places it controls. Every facet of the journey is administrated from the top of the hierarchy. Every service is staffed, managed and supplied from headquarters. When something gets decided in the remote location, the authority to make that decision has been delegated from the central command. It's like limiting one's car trip to gas stations, restaurants and lodging owned by your family. You'd also need to own a huge number of stops for every trip you might take.

Centralized structures cannot decentralize without losing their sense of purpose. They assume that "all is lost" when they lose control, rely on unrelated services or partner with unqualified contributors. They cling to a perceived necessity of centralized controls and ownership, even though it "makes the trip too costly". Centralized structures maintain their controls "at all costs" even when they soar out of sight.

09 September 2009

Broken business models leak cash

Answer #8 to the question: Why are college costs soaring?

When any business model is broken, the customers are not satisfied with what they get for their money. The employees are wringing their hands in frustration. The managers have too many problems on their plates to solve any effectively. Problems with no easy solutions are multiplying and crises become a common occurrence. With so many things going wrong, survival of the enterprise is in jeopardy. It appears this is a time to "spare no expense" to restore order and get things back on track. Enterprises with broken business models hemorrhage cash profusely.

Business models become broken for many different reasons. Here's a few that colleges and universities are experiencing:

  • Dramatic changes in what the customers need, want and expect for their time, effort and money
  • Introduction of new technologies that change the rules of the game, not just save time and expense
  • New rivals that raise the bar, change the standards or deliver superior quality at a lesser price
  • High turnover in top leadership positions where the newest execs are still learning the ropes when they get replaced
  • Confusion among those who deliver and use the formerly reliable services because of so many policy revisions and reorganizations
  • Grandiose pronouncements about significant improvements that never materialize which make everyone more cynical
  • Blatant attempts to bribe the customers to they stick around by dishing out freebies, swag and token efforts
When things get this crazy for a college or university, there's no way to calm down enough to address soaring costs issues. Everyone is frantic, scatterbrained and stressed out. It appears that spending less money will looking like quitting, giving up the fight or admitting defeat. They feel compelled to spend big bucks to make a big impression that covers up the broken business model that's leaking cash rapidly.

08 September 2009

Structured for continual cost increases

Answer #7 to the question: Why are college costs soaring?

When we put someone on a pedestal, we respect, admire, and perhaps envy, that person. We perceive the individual as more powerful, capable and resourceful than ourselves. We look up to that person and may seek to become like him or her someday. In the meantime, we expect that someone to solve their own problems without our help. We safely assume there's no way we could play at their level or take control of a situation involving that person.

Counseling psychologists have many ways to describe the relationship between the person put on a pedestal and the one looking up when problems are not getting solved. The pair of individuals are a combination of:

  • idealized and demonized
  • overpowering and powerless
  • self reliant and morbidly dependent
  • condescending and self effacing
  • superior and inferior
  • distancing and rejected
  • aggressive and passive
  • abusive and persecuted
There is a kind of organizational structure built out of these relationship patterns called "bureaucratic hierarchies". They consist of many layers of management to be lower than and looking up at. They create structures for people to be the underling without getting criticized or terminated for being powerless, inferior, passive, etc. People in these kinds of relationships are in no mood to solve problems together. It's inconceivable there could be a collaboration to successfully save money, lower costs and become more efficient. Most people believe those issues should be handled by higher ups. They're convinced they are not in a position of power or authority to take charge of big problems like that.

Most colleges and universities are structured as bureaucratic hierarchies. They contain layers of management from the president at the top down to the part time faculty at the bottom. Everyone except the top person is in a position to pass the buck, hide behind their job description and expect higher ups to solve the problems. Solutions that require teamwork, cooperation and intense communication across levels get stuck in committee. Everyone makes excuses for dropping the ball, neglecting responsibilities and failing to follow through. Bureaucratic hierarchies are structured to produce continual cost increases.

07 September 2009

Arrested development costs a fortune

Answer #6 to the question: Why are college costs soaring?

Some enterprises are called "learning organizations". Learning is not what they sell to students, it's what they do to succeed in their markets. Learning organizations realize their context is changing too fast not to continually learn more. Learning organizations realize it's unknown to them what problems their customers are solving or what their fans care about most. They also discover they have lots to learn about their own employees, as well as their suppliers, rivals, and surrounding communities.

Learning organizations discover ways to save money and keep costs from soaring out of sight. They learn enough about their customers to find ways to cut corners without compromising satisfaction. They learn how to give employees the feeling of being understood, respected and valued which leads to phenomenal suggestions, initiatives and follow through to contain costs admirable. They may realize ways to partner with suppliers, rivals or their community to find mutually beneficial solutions that save everyone some time, energy or expense. Learning organizations also figure out how to develop better quality and deliver lasting results without spending exorbitant sums like their clumsy rivals. They learn that they can function more economically and profitably by doing a better job of being a learning organization.

Most colleges and universities are not "learning organizations". They appear to have bad cases of "arrested development". They act as if they "know it all already" and nobody can tell them anything they don't already know. They do tons of academic research, but little of the anthropological, field or folklore kinds of research that learning organizations do. They do not ask the kinds of questions that lead them to valuable discoveries, insights and alternatives. They simply continue to do what they do and know what they know while their costs soar out of sight.

04 September 2009

Failing to admit mistakes

Answer #5 to the question: Why are college costs soaring?

In order to reduce costs and avoid additional cost increases, something needs to change. Perhaps less money will be spent on the same thing next time around. Funds may be spent differently that gets more "bang for the buck". Liquidity may get invested in a long term project that yields considerable cost savings. Having money to spend may even be seen as part of the chronic problem which calls for finding more economical approaches to solutions.

In each of these instances, spending less money involves admitting a mistake: "We didn't get it right last time". "Our previous effort proved to be over-confident and loaded with questionable assumptions". "The last decision proved to be wrong".

Our minds can admit mistakes when we feel safe among other people. We can confess to errors when we're still learning how to improve ourselves. We can value mistakes when we're experimenting to find out what works the best. If college administrators thought of themselves in these ways, the soaring costs of college could be controlled and reduced. Unfortunately, these are unusual frames of mind in higher ed.

Most college administrators are in danger of getting fired. Most high ranking jobs are "revolving door positions". Most figures in positions of authority get heaving criticized by lower ranking members of the institutions, as well as outsiders. Deans, Provosts, Chairpersons and Presidents are all expected to already know how to do their jobs superbly. Continuing to learn on the job gets regarded as personal incompetence, lack of qualifications and justifications for termination.

This results in people, who decide how the money gets spent, failing to admit their mistakes. They defend their actions and deny any wrongdoing. They invent defensive rationalizations to justify their actions. The guard against getting shot down and fortify their walls that keep criticisms out of their consideration. As a result, the cost of college is soaring out of control wherever leaders are failing to admit their mistakes.