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Recognizing Core Capacities When We See Them

As we argue in our piece Reflecting on Non-Profit/For-Profit Partnerships in Higher Ed, we think colleges and universities would do well to reflect carefully before engaging in partnerships with for-profit companies.

There are many good reasons to partner with outside vendors, of course, and no institution of higher education could function without key external vendors and service partners. But we are concerned when these partnerships outsource core competencies.

Few would likely disagree with this perspective. If a college outsources its core functions, what really does the college do other than manage a set of disparate services?

But part of our concern is that we may not always be able to distinguish between supplemental services and core capacities. In our last piece, we suggested that no college would consider outsourcing one of its academic departments.

Clearly, academic departments are the bread and butter of a college. A core capacity if there ever was one.

Still, when the MOOC mania of 2012 happened, plenty of folks were gleefully optimistic with the idea of outsourcing intro-level courses to MOOCs taught by star faculty from across the globe (why teach intro to stats if the best intro to stats course could be available to your students?).

If academics is not sacred, then it’s easy to understand how other perhaps less obvious (and perhaps more newly minted) capacities might not be seen as core.

One area that is of particular concern for us is the support for teaching and learning. There are many lessons from the eighteen months, but certainly, the need for greater teaching and learning support is one of them.

The work of the people who support teaching and learning enabled the rapid and complex teaching and learning during the unprecedented move to remote learning during the spring of 2020 and into 2021.

Helping faculty think through the complexity of teaching online (not to mention teaching in digitally mediated ways in person or in hybrid classes) should be a core capacity of the 21st-century college.

The need to invest in this support is one of the arguments of our book, Learning Innovation and the Future of Higher Education. But it is also quite true that teaching and learning support is one of the first things that is outsourced when schools think about moving programs online.

Instead of outsourcing this competency, we argue schools should be looking for ways to invest in and build up this capacity.

In a future post, we’ll suggest some principles we think colleges and universities should think about when considering outsourcing.

For now, though, what areas do you think have become core competencies at colleges and universities that are often not recognized as such?

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