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Founding Member – Thomas Eklund

Thomas Eklund

For me, effective higher education is above all about meeting the needs of traditional students, adult learners and employers as consumers of higher education services. Yes, as consumers of higher education services, that is, higher education as a service. This is a somewhat dreaded concepts and that does disservice to everybody. The better we understand the needs of these consumer groups, and especially the overlaps between the needs of learners and employers, the more effectively we can tailor higher education to meet these needs. This means more increasingly positive experiences and fever disappointments regarding what higher education can deliver.

I am building Effective Higher Education as a venture for large and diverse groups of people:

  • traditional students, adult learners and employers as consumers and
  • educators, educational coaches, advisors, consultants, skill development resource providers and software application developers as higher education service providers.

Professionally I am a database application developer, business analyst and project manager. My database development work related site contains information on my professional background.

Effective Higher Education as a venture combines technical and non-technical components. Development of these components requires lots of time and work but is also a very interesting journey. Further, in the process I improve my knowledge and skills as well. All of it is highly meaningful to me because this venture combines areas that I am very interested in and have a long-term professional growth potential. Equally importantly, this venture represents a realistic opportunity to create a successful business that benefits many people.

However, my initial interests in higher education industry operations are related to less pleasant areas.

Effective Higher Education Venture Development Background

Effective Higher Education as a venture grew out from the dark side of the higher education industry. Nowadays, every person in the U.S. is affected by the student loan debt crisis. Millions of people are affected by it directly and the rest of the society indirectly, through decreased number and quality of economic opportunities and lowered revenues and incomes. Thus, the more we do to resolve this crisis, the better off we will be.

The student loan debt problem is about declining value that higher education has been providing to increasing number of new graduates and employers who hire them. Behind it are socio-economic changes and higher education industry resistance to effectively address higher education as a service that should be focused on the evolving needs of traditional students, adult learners and employers as target markets. The decreasing value problem has been combined with increasing cost of higher education. As a result, for years millions of people have been forced to pay more for higher education that provides them with less value – that is, with less relevant knowledge and skills – than comparable higher education services in the past did.

I do not believe that this crisis can be resolved through gimmicks and I consider redistribution of taxpayer money as the primary remedy to be a gimmick. Obviously, financial resources are very important, but focusing on redistribution of taxpayer money as the primary remedy will only add fuel to the fire by adding even larger numbers of graduates to the marketplace with degrees that provide less value than is needed.

This crisis can best be resolved through addressing the first principles – whom and how should higher education actually benefit, what kind of higher education can provide more value, how can we attain and provide the needed higher education solutions cost-effectively, who does provide solutions that are needed, where are the gaps between what is needed and what is provided, and what kinds of opportunities do the existing gaps between the needs and supply create for solution providers. Effective higher education as a venture focuses on finding answers in these areas.

My personal struggles have motivated me to find answers in the relevant areas as well. I personally do not owe student loans, but I have had several years long dispute with the Department of Education that is related to student loans. By its nature, this is an internal record making, usage and enforcement dispute more than a student loan dispute. To have a student loan dispute, student loans should exist in the first place, which is not the case here. I graduated from college in 1996. In 2008 the Department of Education created internal records without existence of actual lending and borrowing transactions and documents. The Department of Education created its records based on a guaranty agency internal records, which apparently were based on partial copies of financial aid applications. Sounds strange, hard to believe and somewhat ridiculous, but partial copies of financial aid applications and internal records that were created after I graduated is all that the Department of Education has been able to furnish as the validating source of its claims.

Based on the available information, the guaranty agency internal records were also created after I graduated from college. The alleged amounts are absurdly high, 20 times the cost of tuition. Nobody has been able to explain, where the allegedly borrowed money went to. Just like no documents exist showing that I ever borrowed the alleged amounts, no documents exist showing that I ever actually received any of the alleged bank loans either directly or indirectly, as tuition support. At the same time, it is known that based on the same financial aid applications I did receive financial aid other than bank loans, such as college honors scholarship, Pell Grant and work-study financial aid. This dispute has been documented on

Considering, how poorly the Department of Education's operations have been set up and managed, it is kind of scary to think that the Department of Education is actually also one of the biggest financial institutions in the U.S.

However, I also want to point out that this dispute and the problem areas outlined below force me to be critical of the Department of Education. Spending my time on disputing something is not my preference, though – instead, I prefer to focus constructively on task areas that help to build value.

Nevertheless, because of this dispute I had to learn about student loan industry and that lead to learning about higher education industry. When life gives you problems, turn them into opportunities. Combine your professional development interests with building or otherwise doing something that benefits others – that's the best outlet for frustration and it's also an excellent investment of your time and efforts.

Similar principles apply when you want to develop your professional life further. Learn both about what other people want – what the market needs – and about your own interests and aptitude. Establish and pursue your objectives, try alternatives and observe your level of interest in what you encounter and do, and analyze what you like and why. In the process, as needed, turn the problems into opportunities. Having an objective is better than no objective, and having a plan for achieving that objective is better than no plan. Don't expect instant success or perfection. Life is a process, not an event, and perfection is in the eye of the beholder. Build, link and develop further objectives and relevant projects. Focus on achieving the objectives and explain to yourself, why focusing on your objectives over other alternatives makes sense to you. In the process, draw motivation from everything you can.

This is also how I build Effective Higher Education as a venture.

Why Do We Need Effective Higher Education

My negative experiences with the Department of Education are subjective. However, throughout my exploration of higher education related areas one thing stood out: there is relatively little focus on researching and understanding the needs and wants of the traditional students, adult learners and employers as consumers of higher education services. Similarly, in policy making, there is little prioritization of the needs of these consumer groups. These important consumer groups are often treated as invisible, as if they did not exist.

This is objectively a problem.

Shouldn't the traditional students, adult learners and employers as consumers of higher education services be among the officially declared primary target markets of the services that the Department of Education provides in higher education related areas? Shouldn't the services that the Department of Education provides in higher education related areas include relevant research that leads to a thorough understanding of these consumer groups evolving needs and wants as consumers of educational services?

Obviously, that has not been the case, because if the Department of Education would have been managed effectively by prioritizing the needs of these target markets, we would not have ended up with large scale mismatches between education that is provided and education that the marketplace needs and rewards. Similarly, we would not have ended up with student loan debt crisis that for years has negatively affected, and continues to affect millions of lives and the entire economy. Similarly, we would not have ended up with higher than before percentages of students who after graduating regret going to college.

Of course, graduation rates are also related to value that higher education provides. The higher is the value that higher education is expected to provide to a person, the more motivation there is to graduate. Similarly, the more dubious and doubtful is the value that higher education is expected to provide, the less incentive there is to put in the efforts to graduate.

While lowering the cost of higher education is certainly important, increasing the value that higher education provides to the traditional students, adult learners and employers is at least as important. Further, lowering the cost can be best done by, well, lowering the cost – not through subsidizing overly costly services. Taxpayer money is certainly needed, but it should be used for creating value. Then we will all be better off. Applying increased amounts of taxpayer money to services that do not meet target markets needs sufficiently well will not provide the needed solutions. It will simply mean that taxpayers will carry an even higher burden by being forced to subsidize less than effective services.

It will also lower the value of the degrees for which people so far have paid premium prices. It will also mean creating an increasing pool of people with new degrees that are worth very little. If a student pays less for a degree that is worth less, while still investing the same amounts of efforts and time into attaining the degree, then how is that student better off? How is the society better off?

Effective higher education solutions can be developed through working on increasing the value that higher education provides to traditional students, adult learners and employers, together with lowering the cost of attaining higher education and providing sufficient financial aid to the students. Further, the solutions that are provided can be made scalable and can be personalized with increasing accuracy. deals with questions that do have answers. Let's find them and let's build a future where real and viable alternatives exist for attaining effective higher education that benefits the vast majority of traditional students, adult learners and employers who hire college graduates. Such viable alternatives are emerging and are necessary for balancing the infrastructure that has been dominated by costly but less than effective options. As the real life experiences vividly show, such domination and dependencies are not healthy for us as individuals and for this society. Solutions toward increased independence, effective higher education and professional and financial well-being do exist.