Tech provost presentation details future of higher ed

HOUGHTON – Michigan Technological University’s Senate has recently debated an array of internal matters, including its own relevance as a governing body, but Wednesday Tech Provost Max Seel made sure senators were keeping an eye on the bigger picture.

In his presentation, “The Future of Higher Education: Some Big Picture Questions,” Seel pointed out the way Massive Open Online Courses and other readily-available online offerings – many of them free – are threatening the traditional model of higher education.

“We have our internal challenges, but we cannot forget about the big picture,” Seel said. “It’s important for all of us, for faculty, for administration, for students. If we don’t, if we are not able to answer these questions together, we’re all marginalized, we all become irrelevant.”

Seel pointed to several national headlines to showcase the widespread concern, including the following: “MOOCs will forever change how we see the purpose of higher education,” “Harvard, MIT partner to provide free courses through edX,” “College degree, no class time required,” and “Near-term outlook is bleak for all of higher education, Moody says.”

He offered another quote from Arizona State University President Michael M. Crow, which really encapsulates the issue: “The challenge is to ‘find ways to massively innovate’ without resorting to a higher-education future where ‘we let rich kids get taught by professors and poor kids get taught by computer.'”

In his presentation, all 12 slides of which can be downloaded in their entirety at, Seel gave nine suggestions specific for Tech, which included valuing entrepreneurship and being a place for the arts.

Senators asked several questions following the presentation, including, “How do you see this changing our strategic plan?”

“It will not change the vision we have about 3,000 graduate students and 5,800 undergraduates,” Seel said. “What will change is making this blended learning work, because students will demand some of that. How can you make the classroom lecture more meaningful?”

He said the classroom experience of the future will involve more interactive dialogue between student and faculty, and Tech’s residential campus experience will always have value since hands-on work in labs, for example, cannot be replicated through online lectures. Seel said Tech has one big advantage: “Our niche is defined.”

Senator Don Beck said universities need to get hard data to support the arguments, and Seel said Tech had a 93 percent graduation rate (substantially higher than the University of Phoenix, for example) and starting salaries among the highest among similar universities.

“I think you’re spot on on our niche being defined and on the point … that we should focus on the hands-on small projects, things you can’t do online,” Senator Pete Moran said. “The … danger we should strive to avoid is, perhaps if we’re committed to that being our reason for existence, not diluting our brand by offering MOOC-like programs that then would tend for other people to put us in the same categories.”

Seel said it will be a balancing act in the future, but ignoring the technological advances would be at Tech’s peril as well.