The International Association of Universities convened its 14th General Conference on November 27, 2012. The conference theme was "Higher Education and the Global Agenda: Alternative Pathways to the Future." My conference dinner presentation offered an “alternative pathway to the future.” I described the pathway as a global “movement” open to both educational institutions and their external investors (governments, students, donors, employers, and suppliers), and targeting the cooperation required to open up and expand the credentialing marketplace. The concept is elaborated in my recently published paper, "Is Education's Past Its 2050 Prologue?"
The 2050 purpose of education, from my perspective, is to help meet the challenges to humanity that are already driving policy pressures on education to credential more people to higher levels of learning attainment. For example, President Obama has called for scaling adult attainment proportions from 40% to 60% in ten years to increase the population of adults holding a trusted, postsecondary credential – a degree or certificate – from 80 million to over 120 million.
The USA is not alone in making educational attainment the dominant thread in education policy. Focusing attainment on increasing the pool of credentialed scientists and technologists and spreading the humanistic and civic habits of mind required to cooperate across geopolitical and socioeconomic boundaries is a worldwide strategy for addressing humanity’s grand challenge to advance and sustain social, environmental, and economic justice.
Is the attainment strategy working? Not so much. The global economy is sputtering here and there and threatening havoc everywhere. Global warming continues apace, while the green economy wavers. Too many people suffer from the ravages of war, hunger, and other cruel injustices. These challenges persist even as well-intentioned organizations, including the U.N., labor to meet humanity’s grand challenge by rebalancing rights and responsibilities among the economic beneficiaries of various common-good resources, such as clean water and air. Entrenched special interests, intentionally or not, can damage or destroy a common-good resource to the detriment of its other beneficiaries. Potential “tragedies of the commons” similarly lurk in the common-good credentialing marketplace, while attainment proportions in the US have been stuck at about 40% for over 30 years.
Credentialing rates and attainment proportions are currently stalled by a three-way affordability conundrum: how to make credentialing processes more affordable not only to the proportionately increasing economic demographic of low-income students, but also to the institutions and governments that financially support those students. Educational Justice is a fitting phrase for signifying the achievement of mutual affordability. Educational attainment and justice are co-dependent in today’s credentialing marketplace. Bureaucracy, high overhead costs, increasing per-credential cost structures, and shrinking public funding reveal today’s governments and credentialing institutions to be entrenched 20th-Century special interests, which are unwittingly impeding the expansion of educational justice and attainment to help meet humanity’s grand challenge.
In contrast, there are 21st-Century economic governance models for common-good resources that could be applied to the credentialing marketplace. Consider the Internet Society, which has successfully maintained the seminal principle that all Internet traffic will be created equal. Today’s Internet/Web continues to empower exponential growth in social and economic wealth – exactly what progressive policy leaders hope will result from scaling up educational justice and attainment, which are increasingly critical to the realization of the democratic principle that all people are created equal. That’s why I proposed in the aforementioned paper an Education Leadership Commons as an open, non-profit, nongovernmental economic governance organization for the credentialing marketplace.
The ELC offers a framework for a cooperative “movement” aimed at rebalancing rights and responsibilities among credential providers and their external investors in a shared marketplace. One idea would have governments commit to needs-tested financial aid (and/or a tax credit) in an amount projected annually from tax data. For students to remain eligible for such aid, they would have to submit at age 14 (or thereabouts), and periodically thereafter, to an age-appropriate evaluation of basic communication and critical thinking skills. Any institution accepting a student’s financial aid would be obligated to report predetermined, universal high-level accountability metrics. Government and other research centers would have access to the aggregated, privacy-secured data from the above protocols, and students would control their personal data. The paper includes a matrix of rights and responsibilities to shed light on the basic idea that earned, needs-tested financial aid and earned tax credits could become an economic lever for scaling and sustaining educational justice and attainment.
The credentialing marketplace is a common good that must be expanded and sustained, and the ELC is a global, open economic governance cooperative aimed at scaling up both educational attainment and educational justice to help meet humanity’s grand challenge to advance and sustain social, environmental,economic, and educational justice.