Many states and colleges are engaged with the Guided Pathways to Success (GPS) program and other methodologies supported by Complete College America (CCA). In this post in the series, I will suggest that this observation if essentially true:
The influence of CCA will be similar to the dot com bubble of the 1990s.
In other words, the CCA is advocating dramatic action using unproven methods for a large group of investors (states and colleges). Some methods involve components which have sufficient evidence for scaling, but the magnitude of change being created exceeds any reasonable prediction for a positive return on investment. Even if the labels (like GPS) stick, the market will collapse within a few years as states and colleges get data indicating the large amounts of money are being lost with little gain for students.
To understand why this observation is made, take a look at a quote from the CCA materials:
But game changers don’t spontaneously happen: They are caused by people who act boldly and decisively in response to challenges. http://completecollege.org/the-game-changers/
The ‘game changer’ reference is designed to pull in the big investors; investors are drawn to promises of large returns, especially when there is an apparently simple plan for the large returns promised. The declaration of ‘boldly and decisively’ is a propaganda tool meant to turn off any inclination to be skeptical of the rationale for the components of the plan.
The question is this: Why do we need ‘game changers’ in the first place? Few of us would like the process of education being equated with any game or set of games; let’s set that valid concern aside. “Game changer” is defined (Merrian-Webster) as “a newly introduced element or factor that changes an existing situation or activity in a significant way”. Some components of the methods suggested by the CCA would meet this definition (such as ‘full time is 15’); however, the methods are more accurately summarized as “changing the game” rather than “game changers”.
The push toward GPS and other ‘game changers’ is accompanied by a rationale that sounds reasonable to those with smaller amounts of understanding of culture of our institutions … community colleges in particular. I am reminded of the many novice arguments presented by my students for why their incorrect mathematics was actually ‘correct’: such arguments convince other novices, and perhaps some professionals who turned of their skeptical (critical) functions.
In spite of the obvious and reasonable doubts about the “CCA Game”, their marketing has worked very well. Several states are deep in to the “CCA com” (like dot com) bubble. The press for CCA has been extremely one-sided … partially because they create much of the press themselves. No organization has stood up to question the CCA messages, even though the messages lack significant professional history.
I commend the CCA for a hustle well played. It’s disappointing that so many leaders and policy makers have been hustled like this. The prediction for the collapse of this CCA bubble is supported by the track record of prior changes … prolonged change tends to be consistent with, and supported by, the work of professional organizations. The CCA bubble is supported by a network of change agents, much like the ‘dot com’ bubble.
The unanswered question: How long will the CCA bubble last?
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