Redefining Educational Opportunity in America

Redefining Educational Opportunity in America

Peter Plympton Smith
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3583-7.ch013
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This chapter discusses the historic progression of American higher education and its role in opportunity and work. There are social and economic costs in higher education's current opportunity structure, in that many Americans are excluded by campus models, traditions, and values coupled with broader societal norms. For them, the higher education opportunity pathway remains an opportunity monopoly beyond their reach. Clayton Christiansen's theory of disruptive innovation is referenced to reframe this education-opportunity debate.
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This chapter is written from the perspective of a friend and longtime observer of higher education, learners, learning, and opportunity, rather than that of critic. Looking past American post-secondary education’s amazing achievements, the chapter focuses on those people who have not benefitted, those who have remained marginalized and underserved, and seeks ways that disruption in the education and work space can be harnessed to deliver opportunities that have, heretofore, been beyond their reach.

Disruption of the campus-based model brings with it the potential to fundamentally reframe education and employment opportunity. Although the development of opportunity pathways through higher education to good jobs has been very successful in the years since the GI Bill was passed, a majority of Americans are still denied the opportunity for higher education by campus models, traditions and values coupled with broader societal norms. For them, the higher education opportunity pathway was, in fact, an opportunity monopoly beyond their reach.

With that in mind, this chapter will address three distinct topics:

  • First, it will discuss the history of higher education’s role in, and its contributions to, opportunity and work. Higher education’s development, as a driver of opportunity, has gone through several stages since the passage of the GI Bill until now.

  • Second, Clayton Christiansen’s theory of disruption can reframe the education-opportunity debate.

  • Post-secondary education and lifelong learning is the core opportunity-driver in America. There are hidden social and economic costs of the current opportunity structure in higher education. How can this situation be improved?

This discussion is based on the author’s over fifty years’ experience in the field and is an effort to make sense of higher education’s current state and future opportunities.

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