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Groundhog Day In Higher Education

by Anatoly Lezhen
We have spent the last decade looking at what can be changed, improved, updated, and created for the new higher education.

  The Diatribe

“It’s nice … People like it.” –Rita (Andie McDowel)

“People like blood sausage too… People are morons.”  -Phil Connors (Bill Murray)

We wake up, day after day and year after year, to the same higher education. The world is changing at light speed — there were no Snap Chats, iPhones, or Teslas a decade ago – but on-campus higher education just stays the same.

Every year at ed innovation conferences the story remains: small glimmers of innovation around the periphery. No changes in the core.

Students of course are the ones who are stuck. Sure, the wunderkinds can navigate the treacherous path of Thiel Fellowships and the uncertain world of alternative credentials. But for the mainstream student the message is:

“You can go back to Punxsutawney or you can go freeze to death.”

And for all the fun, the indelible memories, the personal growth during the 4 years on campus, students are graduating with a degree and little else in the way of marketable skills. After graduation, a hidden slush puddle awaits them, and the warning comes too late.

“Watch that first step — it’s a doozie.”

The Opportunity

Hooray for Minerva!

Hooray for …?

Talk about a short list. Everybody is watching Minerva. Everybody is talking about Minerva. Minerva Minerva Minerva.

Hey everybody! We have millions of Higher Ed students spending 4+ years and a whole lot of money. Many of these same millions are finding no gains in critical thinking during three out of those four years. Putting all of our money on a single Minerva once every decade just isn’t going to cut it.

Where Is The Innovation?

We can’t control the weather. But we also seem completely unable to control our higher education. Which begs the question: why?

Why do we see so little innovation and so few new players, with global demand for Higher Ed being so high?

The lack of innovation is easy to explain. Universities do not want to change. We inherited universities from a different time and a different world. Their missions, priorities, and content do not align with the demands of today’s industry and everyday reality.

However, even when universities do want to change, they simply can’t. They are too big, decentralized, entrenched, and political — with hundreds of people who can say no, and nobody who can say yes.

Barriers To Entry

The question as to why there are so few new-to-world higher education institutions also has a relatively simple answer — huge barriers to entry.

A campus-based institution is a multi-faceted enterprise (academic, experiential, hospitality, athletics), requiring tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in capital, a large team, and a heavy marketing spend — all in the first year. Good luck taking that proposition to VCs. It certainly doesn’t fit the “lean” mantra – iteration around a single product/service – that most innovation investors search for.

The reputation barrier is also a hefty one. Parents don’t like to take risks when it comes to children. Sending students to a “new” higher education institution is scary. College counselors are similarly unlikely to take a risk and recommend an “untested” option.

As a result, even though criticism of the status quo is reaching a new crescendo — we have no choice but to wake up to the ritual of yesterday’s higher education.

“Don’t you worry about cholesterol, lung cancer, love handles?” -Rita

“I don’t worry about anything …” -Phil

“What makes you so special, everybody worries about something.”  -Rita

“That’s exactly what makes me so special, I don’t even have to floss.” -Phil

Frustration

So we’ve been stuck. And for years, when high school students looking for “something different” came to me for advice, I didn’t know what to tell them.

Should I tell them to forge their own paths? Would that be responsible advice? Or do I fold, and play the “where are you applying?” broken record.

The Solution — United Mint Campus

I am happy to announce that today I no longer find myself in this quandary.  I simply direct those seeking a modern higher education to United Mint Campus.

At United Mint Campus, higher education has been restructured from the ground up.

Campus Experience

First — the campus experience is indispensable. It is also irreplaceable. Living on campus, finding oneself, one’s friends, one’s passion, one’s life’s work, one’s athletics and recreation — this is all part of an experience that cannot and should not be replicated online. At United Mint Campus, we preserve and amplify the student campus experience. The problem of mainstream Higher Ed has never been the campus itself, but the outdated education that takes place on campus.

United Mint Campus studying at United Mint Campus medieval town headquarters.

Real World Projects Supported With Bootcamps, Coaching & Mentors

There are plenty of studies today which show that lectures are ineffective; that applied learning works; and that project-based learning really really works.

These studies and their suggestions also happen to mirror what most students wish for in their education: real world projects, engagement, and relevance.

So we already know the key to a great higher education — which is to put real world projects at the heart of the higher education experience and at the center of campus. At United Mint Campus, we have replaced classrooms with Project Incubators — where students work on real projects, supported with skills bootcamps and workshops, while getting mentored and coached by industry professionals.

Internship Abroad students sitting around a coworking table. One girl smiling and looking past the camera.

Curated Degrees

Finally, the 3rd component is the degree. Degrees are still the gold standard — this will not change for another decade or two. But do we really need yet another academic faculty? Aren’t there enough degree programs in the world? In fact, what if a student could choose to learn from multiple programs and multiple faculties — after all, there’s no shortage of conversations about the “unbundling of education” going on.  United Mint Campus aggregates and curates academic programs from around the world, helping students to combine degrees, certificates, and courses from globally-respected universities.

The Mission

The mission of United Mint Campus is to change higher education by creating more engaged, inspired, experienced, and employable graduates. A four-year United Mint Campus student will graduate with a great degree, 4 years of real work experience and credentials, and 4 years of campus fun, personal growth and social growth.

So hear ye, hear ye. While mainstream higher education has been echoing a jaded and selfish Phil Connors in Groundhog Day: “I have a great body, and sometimes I go months without looking in the mirror”.

We at United Mint Campus have spent the last decade looking at what can be changed, improved, updated, and created for the new higher education. United Mint Campus presents a higher education option that is designed for the modern world. An education designed for life.

 

About the Author

Anatoly Lezhen is the founding CEO of United Mint Campus. He believes that the development of education and education technology is the world’s best opportunity for democratization and growth.

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