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Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Ethics of Admissions, Part I: Graduate and Professional School

By Jane Robbings
Inside HigherEd - Sounding Board Blog
Originally posted February 13, 2013

I’ve been wanting to write a series of posts on the ethics of admissions and its connection to operating models since I began this blog a few months ago.  While there is lots of talk about one or the other, they are rarely brought together in the sense of recognizing how embedded the ethical choices of institutions—and their consequences—are in the construction of their program and college business models. Acknowledging the ethics of a business model—yes, business models are ethics-laden—implies a stakeholder, or corporate social responsibility (CSR) view.

For a long time, though, institutions of higher education have made their operational decisions largely on the basis of internal interests. We could argue about whether what is going on now in terms of business model collapse is essentially chickens coming home to roost—the inevitable outcome of blindedness and self-interest.  And maybe warn about what is yet to come in other areas such as medical research. But for now I’m most interested in looking at recent movements—some coerced, some bravely self-initiated, to consider the ethical connection between admissions and business models. So far, the most explicit has been going on in graduate and professional education.

In the “coerced” category, the poster child is law schools. One could say this is a case of the market, and in response the government, saying “enough” and forcing change. While it can seem sudden, like most sources of change the problems did not arise overnight, but are the cumulative effect of a gradual process. Law schools, like business schools, underwent a “Flexnorization”—a specific effort to become more scientific and empirical as a strategy to drive out lower, practitioner-driven forms—in the late 60s on; the reports from the middle decades of the 20th century, such as the 1968 Rutgers “Law School of Tomorrow,” reflect contentious debate and an awareness of what might be the negative outcomes; by the time of the 2007 Carnegie report with its meaningful title (Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Practice), many concerns had become a reality. And a funny thing happened along the way: the lower-tier schools were not driven out—indeed, like their business school counterparts they thrived by the promise of credentials and high earnings—and the upper tier schools have lost much of their market in the recession—a market that may never return, in part because the narrow tasks performed by even highly paid associates can be performed more cheaply overseas or through an agency (and, increasingly, by a computer), and because firms themselves are restructuring the way they practice.

The entire blog post is here.

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