Paradigm Blindness

By WGU Washington Chancellor Rich Cummins

Most people have seen this image or a variation on its theme. In this case, do you see a younger or older woman? Can you “flip” between the two? Sometimes our minds get anchored by our first perception and are unable to shift. How could a chin line and jaw be a nose? How could an ear be an eye?

Based on its initial interpretation, the mind says no.

In this way, the structures of our experience often become beliefs through which we view the world. Frequently, we see only what we expect to see. For example, when asked to think about a university, most people will conjure stock images from a 20th century photo album… large lecture halls filled with young students taking notes while a professor speaks from a podium… ivy-covered buildings … a packed football stadium. This image of higher education keeps many people from even exploring the possibility of further education.

For example, when technology first enabled the delivery of high-quality, low-cost college degrees, many people thought, “Well, that isn’t a ‘real’ college experience, which is out of my reach.” This belief confuses two distinct value propositions for higher education. While one provides a rich and meaningful “coming of age” experience for those 18-22 year-olds who are either able to afford the high cost or willing to go into debt, the other empowers working adults to attain the degrees they desire to get the jobs they need to join and then stay in the middle class.

WGU Washington is a 21st century university with a huge emphasis on helping working adults break free of the 20th century university model that does not serve them at a time when more, not less, education is required to stay viable in a career.

As our tag line expresses it, we are a “New Kind of U.” We use technology for online learning that focuses on rigorous assessment of student learning outcomes to guarantee competency for every graduate. In doing so, we free the “placebound” student from location by bringing a low-cost, high-quality college to her laptop. We free the “pacebound” student from a college that begins and ends when the other students catch up or when the professor stops lecturing by allowing him to move at his own speed in a uniquely WGU “all you can learn” model. We free our faculty members to provide individualized attention to every learner. We free everyone from crushing debt by making a $15,000 college degree possible for motivated learners.

Bottom line? Higher education may not be what you’ve always thought. If you or someone you know suffers from paradigm blindness and thinks a college degree has passed them by, take another look. A chin really can be a nose.

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