Students in Charge

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Published by The Chronicle of Higher Education

So colleges call in consultants like David Strauss, a longtime principal at the Art & Science Group, and ask them what the market wants. That’s not a new development, he says, but he adds that "the ways colleges are willing to let the marketplace influence them are changing."

"Over the arc of time, higher education has been willing to say things that are what the market wants more than it has been willing to do things that the market wants," he says. More recently have come the climbing walls and lazy rivers, which have attracted plenty of media attention — "but those are things that are ancillary," he says. They may be what students think they want from institutions, and they may be expensive, he says, but they’re not central to colleges’ academic missions.

"The more interesting question is the extent to which colleges do things at the core of the academic mission that are market-reactive," he says. He’s talking about requiring the faculty to add or drop academic programs, for example, and maybe talking less about the liberal arts and more about competencies, skills, and career readiness.

For administrators, it’s a delicate balance between long-established missions and the latest market demands.

"If you do just what you think is right and put on blinders to the market, you’re going to get in trouble," Strauss says. But if all you do is what you think the market demands, "you can lose your soul — and lose your market anyway."

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