Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Why Higher Education Must Transform, Post Recession
I just returned from the 2009 Governor’s Conference on Postsecondary Education Trusteeship in Kentucky, whose theme was “Raising the Bar: Access, Quality, and Success”. This Conference was hosted by the Kentucky Council for Postsecondary Education (CPE).
I had the privilege and pleasure of addressing the new trustees on the topic of “Re-imagining Higher Education, Post-Recession.” In the conversations with the trustees, we explored many of the topics, perspectives, and initiatives that have been featured on this blog over the past few months.
Many of the trustees are seasoned business persons and/or community leaders whose enterprises and local communities are undergoing their own reimagining processes. From their own experiences, many trustees appreciated that the one-two-three punch we have discussed in previous blogs could be applied to lifting out of recession:
• Aggressively harvesting productivity gains to improve efficiency and effectiveness;
• Leveraging innovation and transformation to change the nature of products, services, and experiences offered by enterprises and how they align with emerging marketplace realities and the changing value preferences of customers and stakeholders; and
• Seeking new revenue sources and fresh variations on existing revenue streams.
Yet several questions kept recurring. Why hasn’t transformation succeeded more broadly in higher education before now and what new tools and practices will make this possible? What is it about today’s external and internal conditions that can be leveraged to motivate colleges and universities to re-imagine themselves for the post-recession world? How can inertia be overcome?
To answer these questions, I took a brisk walk through recent history, describing the evolution of the tools of re-imagination and transformation. As benchmarks, I used three books published over the past 13 years by the Society for College and University Planning, which captured the evolution of the tools of transformation.
Transforming Higher Education: A Vision for Learning in the 21st Century - The Vision and the Voice. In 1995, Michael Dolence and I wrote Transforming Higher Education: A Vision for Learning in the 21st Century. In this book, we projected the substantial growth in post-secondary learning that was likely to occur by the year 2000 to meet the needs of the workforce. We projected the robust growth in the number of new learners both in the USA and internationally that would be required to meet the needs of the Information Age.
By our reckoning, it would be practically and financially infeasible to meet these needs through building traditional campuses and proceeding with the traditional “factory” model of higher education, which was based on the familiar processes and practices where teaching, learning, assessment, and certification are bundled together in classrooms directed by traditional faculty.
The Transforming Higher Education model suggested realigning higher education to meet the needs of the workforce and the changing perspectives of learners. This would involve redefining, redesigning, and reengineering processes and practices to create fast, fluid, and flexible educational options for learners. These options would have to range from the traditional to the transformed. We suggested that new technologies were evolving that would enable the deconstruction and reengineering of higher education, elements key to re-imagination. Our model arrived on the scene just as the tools were developing that would eventually sustain the World Wide Web – the Web browser, high-speed Internet access from/to homes and businesses, the consistency of Internet standards such as HTTP and HTML, and the wonderful facility of search and interactivity. The Web and its associated capabilities would become a fundamental enabler of deconstruction and reinvention of educational processes and practices.
Transforming Higher Education appeared in the same year that William J. Baumol and Sue Anne Batey Blackman wrote “How to Think About Rising College Costs” in Planning for Higher Education. In this seminal article, they observed that higher education and health care were “handicraft” professions which had not been transformed by the application of technology-enabled productivity gains. Products, services and experiences in other industries were being reinvented to reduce cost and enhance value, unlike health care and education. As a result, healthcare and education became and continued to become increasingly more expensive compared to everything else in the market basket of services.
If past trends were to continue, Baumol and Bateman extrapolated that the combination of education and health care could rise from 20% of GDP in 1990 to over 50% by 2040. Clearly, these escalating costs would be difficult to sustain, a point that has been affirmed by the current health care debate and by progressive cuts in the relative support of public higher education over the past 20 years.
Put simply, for fifteen years we have recognized the appeal of transforming higher education and the increasingly unsustainable nature of financing for handicraft approaches to health care and education. But we lacked the tools and practices to transform and the collective will to challenge practices that had made us successful. After all American higher education reigned as the global leader in quality rankings and in the educational attainments of our population. Absent an immediate crisis or a clear external threat to mobilize our energies and diminish our over-confidence, American higher education proceeded on its time-honored path.
Transforming e-Knowledge: A Revolution in Knowledge Sharing – The Web-based Tools of Knowledge Sharing and Communities of Practice. In 2001, Jon Mason and Paul Lefrere and I wrote Transforming e-Knowledge: A Revolution in the Sharing of Knowledge. This book described the emergence of the Internet culture and “Web 1.0,” the first generation of highly facilitated knowledge sharing in combination with easy and continuous interactivity, all based on the World Wide Web.
This book suggested that the combination of knowledge sharing services and pervasive social interactivity were gestating a new generation of online “communities of practice.” These communities would enable enterprises, professional disciplines, industries, and even regions or nations to provide perpetual learning experiences that fused with work, learning, knowledge building, and practice. Such communities of practice could prove to be fast, fluid, flexible, and affordable in ways that traditional higher education could not.
Our view was that Web-based engagement and interactivity were powerful instruments for transformation and re-imagination of perpetual, lifelong learning. We predicted that learning enterprises would experience cascading cycles of reinvention in their best practices for e-learning, knowledge management, and shareable educational resources. This would result in reinvented strategies and business models for e-learning, as well.
Transforming e-Knowledge anticipated the further evolution of Web 1.0 into Web 2.0, which enabled both the spontaneous and purposeful creation of social networks and open educational resources. Web 2.0 has also provided the means to provide rapid competence development for enterprises or other groups facing major dislocations and the need for speedy adaptation of new perspectives and practices. The open educational resources (OER) movement is most recognizably demonstrated by the OpenCourseWare Initiative, through which leading institutions like MIT and Carnegie Mellon University are making their entire body of course knowledge and tradecraft available to the world, for free.
These movements associated with Web 2.0 are key ingredients in the ultimate transformation of elements of higher education. They are creating the capacity to deconstruct educational delivery and interactivity and to create dramatically less expensive and more flexible options than the traditional higher education model. The availability of re-imagined options will percolate through higher education, resulting in a multitude of combinations and permutations of learning, demonstration of accomplishment, and certification. Operating within this marketplace of choices, learners, employers, policy makers and other stakeholders will decide which customized options meet their particular needs.
A Guide to Planning for Change – Combining Analytics and Alignment in Leading and Navigating Change. Web 2.0 provided the means for transforming learning and fusing work, learning and practice in ways that have never been possible. In addition, Web 2.0 has enabled the emergence of a new generation of analytics that allow leaders to focus on performance and value to shape the re-imagination of higher education.
In 2008 Nick Poulton and I published A Guide to Planning for Change, which prepared educational planners for crafting and executing strategy and building organizational capacity in the context of today’s changing environment for learning and work.
The major contribution of this book to the toolkit of transformation is its recognition that institutional leaders will need to enhance their use of analytics substantially in order to lead and navigate institutions into a sustainable future. This will require developing a strong culture of performance measurement and improvement. It will also require the careful combination of the tools of analytics with tools of alignment so measurement against targets can be aligned with institutional strategies and refined as the strategies are executed.
Put simply, these books illustrate three underlying forces or developments driving or enabling transformation of higher education:
• The fact that traditional approaches to teaching and learning are financially not sustainable as the means for addressing the boundless requirements of global, perpetual learning, cradle through career;
• Web-enabled revolutions in knowledge sharing and interactivity enable the deconstruction of traditional learning models and the creation new community-based modes of learning; and
• The capacity of Web-enabled analytics to illuminate performance and value are key factors in making the case for transformation and redefining financial sustainability.
The importance of these factors has been multiplied by the stunning events of 2008-2009, when we were hit both with financial disaster and the realization that we have squandered our lead as the global leader in mass education.
The Perfect Storm Arrives – the Great Recession, the Affordability Crisis, and Declining American Competitiveness. The collapse of the financial markets in 2008 and the resulting “Great Recession” hit higher education hard: reductions in state appropriations for public institutions, dramatic cuts in investment income that have most dramatically impacted private institutions, and traumatic declines in the capacity of parents and students to pay for higher education, today and continuing into the future. This affordability crisis will likely continue and perhaps worsen even after economic conditions improve.
The third element of this “Perfect Storm” has been the realization that the United States has lost competitive bragging rights to being the most highly educated nation. A fundamental ingredient in America’s economic strength, post-WW II, has been our investment in higher education, especially mass public higher education. We led the world in the percentage of young people going college and graduating. But over the past two decades, industrialized nations in Europe and Asia have invested heavily in education and some have surpassed us by some measures. We are now 14th in college attendance rates and our current generation of young people promises to the first that is less well-educated than their parents.
We are all familiar with the short-term adjustments pummeling campuses today: financial rescissions, travel freezes, short-term fixes, competing for and leveraging stimulus money, lay-offs, furloughs, pay cuts, creative approaches to financial aid, continuing to increase tuition to fill the gaps, compressing the time for an undergraduate degree from four (or more) to three years, and enrollment shifts to less-expensive institutions. In the short-run, financial exigency and expediency seem to be trumping innovation on many campuses. But campus financial officers anticipate worse budgetary challenges in two to three years, when stimulus money is gone. Moreover, demands for transparency and accountability are growing. .
To reclaim financial sustainability in the future, institutions will need to pursue aggressive, mixed strategies of operational efficiency, innovation, transformed and re-imagined processes and practices, and fresh revenues. Our current Perfect Storm of financial and competitive bad news opens the door to opportunities to overcome persistent resistance to change in higher education and to establish the financial sustainability that has eluded us for the past 15 years.
Transformation and Reimagination, Post-Recession. The call to transform higher education has attracted more and more supporters over the past 15 years. . Some innovations have scaled to entire institutions and flourished. Yet many other innovative and transformative projects in higher education have been “one-off” successes that have failed to be replicated by others. The following green shoots of transformation have appeared and spread around the higher education landscape,[you’ve already alluded to ‘green’] heralding future, enterprise-wide efforts:
• For-profit universities (e.g., University of Phoenix, Capella University, Strayer University, and a host of others) and public/private institutions that act like for-profits (e.g., Western University of Maryland University College, Regis University) have deconstructed and reinvented the traditional university model, deploying different best practices, strategies, and business models; many of these have been able to charge premium prices for their offerings; the for-profit higher education sector has been the fastest growing sector in higher education and its de facto skunk works;
• Some of these online institutions have taken a strong competence-based approach (e.g., Capella University, Western Governors University), leading to consistency of outcomes, demonstrable competences, and template/rubric-based grading and assessment;
• Disruptive innovators like Lamar University, on-line tutoring providers from India, and other on-line providers have offered re-imagined, online offerings at dramatically lower price points from traditional providers and even existing on-line providers; these are the harbingers of a coming generation of lower-price, “good enough” providers;
• Innovations in e-learning and blended learning have exposed most institutions and faculty to new approaches to digital scholarship and learning; some universities have formed unsuccessful online universities (e.g., University of Illinois Global Campus) while others have been successful (e.g. UMass Online);
• Carol Twigg and the National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT) have established a solid, decade-long record of utilizing technology and faculty engagement to reinvent courses, dramatically changing patterns of interactivity and in the process reducing costs and improving student performance; these individual-course-based reinventions have been expanded in some cases to entire institutions (University of Hawaii) and even systems of institutions (University of North Carolina System);
• Many institutions (e.g., University of Wisconsin System, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities) have established successful collaborative degree programs and programmatic networks in high demand areas such as nursing; such collaborations set the stage for serious consideration of consolidating learning resources between institutions, and reducing the span of disciplines covered by faculty in particular institutions (e.g., Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education);
• The open educational resources movement (OER) has grown dramatically, providing open courseware and resources that are being embedded in course experiences across the world; President Obama plans to fund $500 M to expand the use of open educational resources to increase the reach and richness of open education resources; the extension of open resources into social networking-based learning experiences are being prototyped by Peer2Peer University and other fledgling organizations that seek to enable learners to mash-up courses of their own, demonstrate mastery, and achieve certification for learning, outside of a traditional university framework; and
• New approaches to green careers networks and communities are germinating across education and the workplace, breaking down normal institutional and employer boundaries; these include social networking-based communities.
Across the country, the institutional leaders with whom I have spoken have used the past year to cut, stabilize and respond to their institution’s Perfect Storm. This fall they seem poised to embark on serious efforts to re-imagine how their institutions need to function in 2020 to be successful and financially sustainable. They are poised to aggressively undertake actions over the next several years to put them on that path.