The University Cooperative: A 4th Industrial Revolution Solution

The projected skills gap resulting from the unique demands of the 4th Industrial Revolution, distinctive characteristics of Gen Z students, and complications related to the global COVID-19 crisis represent major factors putting universities in a battle for relevancy and survival. Employers are struggling to find employees with the requisite skills and competencies they need. Gen Z students are insisting on new approaches to learning, putting pressure on an older generation of professors to evolve and modify their traditional teaching methods. For faculty members who realize the need for change is not optional and who welcome the needed revolution, it is inspiring to work with tech-savvy, entrepreneurial-minded, Gen Z students who are pragmatic in their approaches to learning.

On the one hand, the demands for what a university should be able to provide may have never been greater. Over the weekend, I heard someone at the airport talk about the work he does across the country in manufacturing facilities getting robots to work with people. He said, “The jobs in manufacturing are now high skilled because the robots have replaced the low skill jobs. Somebody’s got to know how to handle the robots and machines, that never going to change”.

On the other hand, can universities adapt to this quickly evolving marketplace and deliver the transformational learning that their clients (students) need?  For-profit colleges appear poised to capitalize on the changing landscape. However, there is a long history of students being taken advantage of at for-profit institutions as can be seen in this recent NY Times article… . As stated in the article, “At Capella, only 11 percent of undergraduates earn a degree within eight years, according to the most recent federal statistics. At Strayer, graduation rates range from 3 percent at its Arkansas campus to a high of 27 percent in Virginia”. The growth in for-profit institutions contrast to many non-profit universities that are experiencing financial trouble.

The above made me think about the Cooperative University. Is there such a thing? This led me to finding the National Federation of University Co-operative Associations . A quote in the page, struck me, “Students buy at stores owned by students” This referred to students buying food, books, etc. at student-owned stores on campus. But what about if this idea was scaled up to the organizational level and students saying, “Students go to schools that are owned by students and their families”? How would the behavior of staff and faculty change if they were owners? The Advancement staff would not be working to develop donors, but instead be working to develop relationships with investors? How would this change the relations with alumni?

Change is coming, one way or another. The question is will we design and drive the change we want, or simply look back in years to come and say, how did that happen?

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