Change or Die

Disclaimer - this is not to "diss" my employers, but rather a look at a pretty serious situation, and my ponderings thereof.

As most of you know, I work at a small (300 students) 100+ year old educational institution, run by a church denomination (with its own quirks and stuff, which is beside the point for this post). And the trouble with old educational institutions is that change is very hard to effect.

But it is SERIOUSLY needed:
  • At the moment, student numbers are dropping off very badly. They want at least 200 applicants to actually Register - but we never have more than 60 accepted in a year, around 50 of which turn up if we're lucky. We've graduated large classes in the past 3 years, and recently implemented a "pay your years of bills or leave" policy that saw 60 students disappear mid-term.
  • We've cut the second-semester intake for new students. What we get at the beginning of the year (minus drop-outs and de-registrations) is what we have to do with for the whole year.
  • Our programmes have been steadily decreasing in number, thanks to adjustments while busy with government registration of the institution. We're down to 5 programmes (with variations).
  • We're the only college to offer theological training in SAfrica for this denomination, so that programme is over-filled. Unfortunately the graduates are not always employed by the church - church member numbers are on rapid decline in many areas too!
  • Business programmes are doing well - but the major/minor combos have been cut, giving fewer options. The programmes I get the most requests for, are gone.
  • The Arts programme is scantily-populated, that particular department doing more general education subjects than anything else.
  • We have yet to process an application for the secretarial programme - and haven't for the past year.
  • Our lecturers have not been working in the fields they teach for many years - most are past-retirement age, lacking hands-on knowledge of the rapid changes the "outside world" has undergone in recent years.
  • No-one understands the need to re-think technology (dinosaur-age, most are only now discovering email on pain of death as announcements are sent out by that medium). A few of us younger ones foam at the mouth daily as we struggle along on outdated systems (but some of us just go and upgrade anyway, and don't tell anyone).

To all appearances, the place is not only in a state of decline, but in the last throes of its death!

Yet the college refuses to undergo a radical transformation.

I'm no expert, but it almost seems we'd need to close the college down completely, fire everyone, re-hire only those who are both passionate about their work and enthusiastic about change (it would help to have a bit of intelligence too), rework every single programme on offer, and then re-open.

Impractical though - it would take years to get off the ground again.

But the college is also not trying small changes like:

  • Short courses on offer. I get so many requests for these, but our lecturers claim overwork and won't offer holiday or evening classes. Yet the public is clamboring for them - the trend is for quick, intesive training to get up the next rung on the ladder. Short courses don't require government registration, only a good basis, excellent teaching and a mind-set change.
  • Re-working current programmes to not only fit in with market trends (instead of the trends 20 years back), but also incorporate current technology, information exchange (web, blogs, you name it) and self-employment training. Re-educating the lecturers accordingly (or hiring a-while-until-retirement versions).
  • Cutting programmes (and lecturing staff/office space/resources) that are simply not working.
  • Adding programmes in high demand which are not currently offered - being outside of city bounds, folk don't always want to travel long-distance to study. We're in a unique geographical position and are not making the most of it.
  • Creating part-online/email assignment-based courses with minimal contact hours for those who simply can't physically attend classes.
  • Not expecting immediate results when change happens, but waiting it out without simply closing it down before it has a chance to prove itself. Case in point, our English Language Institute, which caters for those who need to learn English from scratch. Previously, students were happy with year-long programmes and we had a good numbers flow. Now they want short courses of 2 months or so, and we cannot guarantee our numbers - yet the flow is building. However the college wants to shut the programme down as we can't say exactly how many students we might have next year! We have 2 long-term students, the rest are "migratory", as is the trend for almost everything these days from employment to learning to communities.
  • Cut the red tape. We're over-run by long-winded, never-ending discussions on what we COULD do - and never get to what we SHOULD do. There's so much "approving" that has to happen, that nothing ever does. This committee recommends it to that one, and so on, until it's lost in the paperwork. (Staff meetings give good examples of this - when certain members stand up to say something the rest of us groan in anticipation of the rest of the meeting going downhill and ending an hour overtime.....)
  • Contract-employ lecturers who are Being There and Doing That in their areas of expertise - get the latest trends and information straight from market to student, and inject a little inspiration/passion into their learning.
  • Cut the crap. There's so much of it we could open our own fertilizer factory and supply all the farms in SA! (OK, perhaps this one is asking a bit too much, but surely we can reduce it slightly?).
  • Hire Managers to Manage, and so on down the job descriptions (we have folk trained in other areas - like pastors - doing the management!).

The problem is, no-one's going to do anything except wring their hands until it's too late. They're going to anxiously watch the incoming finance drop off while the outgoing keeps being spent on trivialities. They're going to see other institutions steal their market as they offer relevant courses and adjust to the needs of those who seek an education. And once the retirees actually retire, they're going to have trouble hiring replacements.

It's frustrating to sit here with answers, to put them to those who can actually do something, and see them shot down immediately. It's hard to see what Could Be ending up a Has-Been. This is a stunningly beautiful institution with so much untapped potential.

A part of me wants to slap a wake-up call in their faces. The other part of me wants to jump ship before the whole thing sinks in flames.

Unfortunately, I'm more likely to do the latter than the former...