M-STEM: The Future of Higher Education?

Given the tectonic shifts in the education marketplace and in the workforce, if I were a University President, or member of the Board, I would try to move an institution long-term into being a Science/Tech/Engineering/Math (STEM) institution, with humanities in support. If I were a faculty member (which I am), I would look at the writing on the wall, and seriously look at how humanities could support STEM, for the very continuity of an institution. I don’t think anyone would argue that the days are numbered when a majority of students will accept the traditional requirements of a four-year degree. For better or worse, the shift is already happening,
What I would suggest, as a tool for institutions, whether they are STEM, or traditional, is M-STEM. The “M” in M-STEM stands for Modular, which provides a context for drawing in other skills when they are proven to support the needs of companies and society.
For example, in a recent report by Payscale, Harvey Mudd College tops out Stanford, even Harvard, etc., on ROI, because they go beyond STEM, by helping their graduates communicate. The reason Mudd graduates are appreciated in high-tech, is because:
"Our alumni know how to write, communicate with broad audiences, work across disciplines and work collaboratively rather than competitively," said Thyra Briggs, the school's vice president for admission and financial aid. "We hear repeatedly from employers and graduate schools that our alumni are often 'translators' in their offices and graduate programs."

So I think that M-STEM could provide a way to help higher education evolve and thrive, especially in the large swathe of mid-level private schools, who neither have the power of top-tier schools, or the support of state funding. But even “top tier” schools could benefit from an M-STEM approach, and I believe an open curriculum is the answer.
What exactly the “M” in M-STEM would entail would be up for debate, but one suggested approach is to connect Marketing to STEM education, partly to provide a context for teaching effective writing skills, but also because marketing is directly relevant to any scientist or technologist or engineer these days, who often end up being directly involved in a startup.
Also, I reflect on the nature of my own experience – as a technical writer, I found that technical writing is really about translation, and ultimately leads to crossover with marketing, product design, and consumer validation, where concepts need to be “translated”, so they can be explained to the end user. So I believe that marketing would be a natural context for teaching writing.
The hard data from job hiring sites overwhelmingly supports STEM, and also marketing. In 2013, the #1 skill that got people hired was social media marketing. In 2014, one of the top five skills was SEO/SEM. So really the top 25 skills list is basically STEM, plus “M”:
But some institutions may even need help just getting into marketing, and for them, I would suggest “CASA” – a focused curriculum based around the core activities in digital marketing. http://www.casamarketing.org 
For some institutions, this may be the first move into competency-based learning in a serious way.
So philosophically, where do I fit in? I can see the completely data-driven argument that would throw the cannons overboard (humanities). But as a matter of societal continuity, and as a practical matter of helping people communicate, I think there’s a strong argument for having the option of humanities, and in some cases, the continued requirement – writing and history, at the very least. (I am not in the least against the humanities! Undergrad I was a Literature major - but then I was an unemployed Literature major.)
Really what’s happening in higher education, if you weren’t aware, is what’s happened in a variety of other industries. The easiest way to get it is to think of social media. It used to be companies could broadcast a single advertising message and consumers were forced to absorb it in channels chosen by companies. Now the completely opposite is true – there’s so many options out there, that it’s all consumer-driven.
So the “writing on the wall” is that education will also become increasingly consumer-driven. For example, I agree that a learning environment that recognizes and strengthens particular “innate intelligences” is important. (Howard Gardner, Harvard University’s “Project Zero”)
So I would agree that adaptive learning to deliver higher value relative to innate ability areas or intelligences is important, certainly in college, but even in high school or earlier. I would suggest that anyone who would want to do this, could and should pay close attention to Beansprock, a new startup oriented around job search, where the same principles could be applied and integrated with education.
However, an immediate-term practical direction where an institution could go would be to escalate and pursue areas within marketing that are in the top skills areas to get people hired. I believe these could be a strong contextual platform for transforming an institution into an M-STEM school, upping the ante on a school like Harvey Mudd. In other words, the Payscale article I referenced unearths an opportunity to be at the cutting edge, and contextualized integration of writing into a STEM curriculum would be bleeding edge.
So what I would suggest to any higher education institution (including Harvey Mudd) is:

1) Move forward to equip students with digital marketing skills, using an open curriculum like CASA (http://www.casamarketing.org), both for the skills themselves, but also for a context in which writing can improve. I authored the CASA curriculum; every course results in certifications, it is already having a measurable impact on job placement, and it is based on hard data. (see how LinkedIn data helped to inform the curriculum.)
2) For traditional institutions who either don’t have a focus limited to STEM, or who have “some” STEM, I would suggest gradually explore how to move the institution increasingly towards STEM, based on the data of where the jobs are - not necessarily where student interest is - but also balanced with where jobs actually are. In other words, every student has a plan "B" that is aligned with the actual job market, and maybe it becomes their plan "A". I would suggest that faculty and administration debate requiring STEM for every student, either in a concentration, or major, and incentivizing it (with scholarships). And I would also suggest putting the “M” before STEM, and integrating writing-communication with the context of marketing. Then, part of the debate can become how the humanities could play a supporting role, but where existing or new faculty are also incentivized to cross-train in marketing.
So who the heck am I? I have been in the humanities as a student, graduate student and I am a professor of Marketing, but my PhD degree was technical writing. I’ve also worked for a variety of small, mid-sized and large companies, experienced layoffs, transitions, worked with startups, and also survived the Recession. http://linkedin.com/in/tekelsey
More recently I did some work at a national company that supports college bookstores, and I got a full dose of the extremely rapid evolution of educational technology and for-profit colleges. I’ve also taught in the classroom, as well as online. I am the author of 10+ books (for which I received an advance, and in some cases, royalties), but on the verge of joining Benedictine University, I was prompted to start writing free textbooks, and that’s how CASA came about – I felt sympathy for students paying the high cost of textbooks. I was also involved in developing free learning material during my PhD research. As a faculty member, I long for tenure, but I don’t take it for granted, and I think any faculty member with their eyes open needs to start looking at colleges as a business.
As for me, earlier in my career, I was a writer and musician, and had no interest in the way money flowed, but then after being laid off a few times, the shock of it helped me to wake up a bit, and a mentor said “Todd, you need to follow the money trail”. It doesn’t mean worshiping money, just understanding how a business works. And colleges are businesses.
What I see, including in the Payscale article, the blog post of mine and the data there, and in the insights of educational leaders, is that the data and trends will drive an institution into the ground, or greatly reduce its footprint, if an institution doesn't start changing course, now.
Other than the two steps above, I propose, and maybe even prophesy, two perspectives on the challenges facing higher education:
Medium-term: integrate innate intelligences, digital marketing and go multilingual: To me, integrating alignment of innate intelligences could be brought into required "assessment" courses, and other medium term "course adjustments" could include increased integration of digital marketing (ex: http://www.casamarketing.org).
Long-term: It may be that digital marketing, going multilingual, and integrating innate intelligences could help an institution survive with some incremental, increased revenue. However, for survival, if you look at trending, it seems that long-term a STEM direction would be needed. You could even use M-STEM as a placeholder - M-STEM could initially mean digital marketing applied to STEM. But then long-term, the underlying transition of an entire institution towards a primary emphasis on STEM could take place.
And this question of institutional continuity might not be medium-term/long-term. It might be short-term/medium term. If you look at research on Post-Millennials, it points towards the need for evolution. Education is not alone, companies need to know this as well –we’re not talking about Millennials, we’re talking about post Millennials (Gen-Z). For example, there is a strong "Gen Z" analysis on Slideshare that has had 400k views, and underscores the importance of needing to face the next demographic shift.
What it says to me is that change is definitely coming, and it is coming soon.
One other comment I'd make is that I've witnessed or personally experienced mergers and acquisitions and consolidation in "maturing" industries, such as newspapers, educational publishers, etc. Mergers and acquisitions and consolidation are a kind of release valve, where assets are preserved through consolidation. But I don't see this happening in education, (except in for-profits), so it basically says to me for colleges:
"Consolidation is not an option, so it's sink or swim"

And my purpose in this blog post is to invite individuals and institutions to go swimming, either with M-STEM, or just by exploring something like CASA.Neither are finished; they are works in progress, and barely just begun. But CASA at least is beginning to produce results.

If you have any thoughts, it would be great to hear them.