We begin with simple premises: higher education can be reimagined and to some degree reinvented, and that it is possible to attain a new plane of financial sustainability – a New Normal – by 2020. However, this can only be accomplished if aggressive action is taken, beginning in 2010-2013, to strategically realign higher education to the New Normal. Institutional leadership, and state and federal policy makers and leaders, must be persuaded of the imperative to realign strategy to the New Normal and to build institutional capacity to redefine, redesign, and reengineer academic and administrative processes.
Institutions should begin their visioning and strategic thinking processes by articulating the patterns and cadences of the world of 2020. Then they should plan from those conditions backward to the present, aligning their strategies to the conditions that will shape strategy setting in 2010-2013.
This is the basic approach that Michael Dolence and I utilized in 1995 when we wrote Transforming Higher Education: A Vision for Learning in the 21st Century, which envisioned cascading processes that would realign, redesign, redefine, and reengineer higher educaton.
At that time. we proposed realigning higher education to the needs of learners in the emerging Knowledge Age for fast, fluid, and flexible learning geared to the needs of the emerging global economy. This realignment would be necessary to meet clear, instrumental needs. But it was also needed due to the simple fact that American society could not afford mass/universal higher education using a bricks-and-mortar, factory model-based, bundled version of education. And with the coming boom in global mass higher education, the model would prove unsustainable, we claimed, for global education, as well.
Over the past 15 years, the truth of those prescriptions and predictions has been verified on three fronts.
First, the American model for mass higher education has become increasingly expensive and unaffordable, as reflected in the Delta Project’s latest report, Anya Kamenetz’s book, DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, and the work of the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, to name a few. We have essentially demonstrated that spending an increasingly greater percentage of GDP on education, without using technology to innovate and transform processes and practices as other industries and enterprises have done, is unsustainable. Moreover, we have squandered the opportunity to undertake such changes over an extended period of time abd are confronted with the need for concerted action.
Second, innovative institutions have demonstrated that the higher education model can be unbundled and made available in a fast, fluid, flexible, and affordable manner. While this is not a solution for every learning need, the market-driven, for-profit sector in America currently serves roughly 1 million learners using variations on the unbundled approach. But other institutions such as Western Governors University, Lamar University, Florida State College at Jacksonville, and a host of others have deployed these techniques to drive down the cost and price of flexible learning. These practices will increase and are also being copied by new competitors around the world, some of whom have aspirations on the American market. Moreover, other permutations of the unbundling and reinvention ethic will be used to examine the other interwoven functions of the university.
Third, Web 2.0 and the social networking revolution has fueled the recent emergence of new forms of open, do-it-yourself, free-range learning. These innovations are making it possible for interested, motivated learners to learn on their own or in learning communities or even in bon fide communities of practice. Peer-to-Peer University, the University of the People, Project ROLE in Europe, the use of open educational resources (OER), and numerous examples cited by Kamenetz in DIY U describe the emerging ecology of free-range learning. In this environment, the capacity to effectively deal with certification of prior learning will become important differentiators for learning and certification providers aspiring to serve learners and attract their patronage. The “opening up” of the learning marketplace will be a critical condition by 2020.
Understanding the “New Normal” of 2020
So we offer the following set of parameters to describe the New Normal for 2020, which should serve as a guide for strategic realignment on institutional strategies, plans, and actions.
Establish Financial Sustainability in an Environment of Diminished Resources. It is clear that by 2020, traditional resources for higher education will be constrained in two major ways, and many minor ones. First, state and federal governments will likely be on a strict budget reduction diet, rebounding from the hangover left over from our recession/deficit crisis. Moreover, compelling demands from other sectors will compete with higher education for attention. Second, the financial condition of individuals and families will have deteriorated, as will their capacity and willingness to pay increasing tuition rates. The pattern of using-tuition-to-fill-the-resources-gap will need to cease.
So tuition and government resources will be increasingly scarce, leaving institutions to establish financial sustainability by a combination of turning to new, non-tuition revenue sources, and achieving reductions in cost through efficiencies, innovations, and reinventions in processes and practices.
Another possibility is that the perilous state of educational finance may become so dire that the basic funding model will be redesigned at state and/or federal levels. Brit Kirwin, Chancellor of the University System of Maryland, has suggested that public higher education be funded based on degrees completed, rather than SCH/enrollments, as a means of incentivizing attention on student success. Others are suggesting tightening the focus of research funding to a smaller group of institutions, and other mechanisms to stretch available resources and make smarter allocations. Other concepts are being bandied about, as well.
One aspect of the world of 2020 is that the balance of academic power will be shifting, although the extent of this shift will be affected by investments in education that will be affected by the natre of the recovery. Chinese and Indian institutions will be more prominent, and financial cutbacks will affect the standing of many American public universities and British universities, to name a few. Countries like Saudi Arabia are investing heavily in higher education, using an American model, but even there concers exists as to which aspects will be sustainable,
Optimize Value in an Environment of Resource Scarcity. In the recent past, the modus operandi for institutional leaders was “Raise all the money you can and spend all the money you raise.” Many popular measures of institutional quality are driven by the level of resources. In the 2020 environment of scarce resources, quality will be important, but value will even more essential. Shrewd and insightful leaders will be forced to figure out how to identify and sustain their real sources of value and quality. Institutions will have little choice but to redesign, outsource, and/or eliminate programs and functions that are non-critical or failing to achieve their value and quality potential.
In the past, individual universities have covered a full range of academic disciplines. By 2020, many universities and colleges may find it necessary to revise and focus their course offerings on centers of excellence, using partnerships and virtual collaborations with other universities to cover other disciplines.
Value can also be improved by improving performance and productivity and by reducing price. Between now and 2020, institutions will be under unremitting pressure to improve academic and administrative productivity. They will also be pressure to hold the line on tuition and to rediuce the “total cost of completing learning objectives.” By 2020, the pressures on both the productivity and price fronts will be substantial, and higher education’s publics will likely demand action.
Embrace a Profoundly Networked World of Ubiquitous Technologies. In Transforming e-Knowledge: A Revolution in Knowledge Sharing (2003) Jon Mason, Paul Lefrere.and I described the transformative impact of the Web on the manner in which we experience knowledge and its impact on every aspect of scholarship and learning. At an accelerating pace, personal communication devices and smart facilities are creating a world in which learning spaces are everywhere. Add in cloud computing and mobile learning (which is growing at a rapid pace across the globe) and one can envision a world in 2020 where every class room in K-20 – and other spaces as well – becomes a technology-rich learning space. While many high-priced visualization and virtual/augmented reality technologies will be limited to more affluent, selected settings, ubiquitous, mobile technologies will at some level empower every learner.
Strategic thinking for 2020 should consider how profoundly these new patterns of engagement and interactivity could change our models, practices, and costs for learning, when coupled with new competitors, open learning, and such.
Rethink the Physical Needs of the Campus. Ohio State University made headlines the other week by deciding that new facilities could be justified only if comparable square footage could be retired. For some time, institutions like the University of Central Florida have utilized on-line and blended learning as a means of “stretching” existing physical resources and growing to a size that could not be supported by the existing physical facilities. Institutions are increasingly using technology to create online and blended options that reduce the need to come to campus. New approaches are also changing the mix of classroom space required (adios to the need for a significant number of large. tiered lecture classrooms) in new facilities. As these practices grow, campuses will find they need less space than in the past.
The Great Recession has dramatically slowed the advancing of new facilities projects into the pipeline in American higher education. By 2020, the pressure to retrofit, repurpose, and retire facilities will be extreme. Sustainability will expand to include the financial sustainability of physical and virtual campuses in a profoundly networked world where the e-Lifestyle includes learning, research, innovation, entrepreneurship, and collaborations span physical and virtual worlds. Existing campus facilities will increasingly be used as “great, good public places” for convening events and collaborations in order to use existing space productively.
Reinvent Sustainable Career Models for Academic Professionals. Robin Wilson’s provocative article in the July 4 edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Tenure RIP: What the Vanishing Status Means for Higher Education” described the dramatic decline in tenure-track faculty from 56.3% of the total faculty corps in 1975 to 30.2% in 2007. While this pace of reduction does not hold for all institutional types, it does suggest what everyone already knew: provosts, deans, and department chairs have been turning to other, cheaper types of adjunct and part-time faculty to address teaching needs in the face of financial pressures and limitations. This trend will continue as long as the financial model is broken or unsustainable.
The question for institutions should be: In 2020, if we can achieve fundamental financial sustainability, what are sustainable career models for academic professions? This is perhaps the most difficult challenge facing higher education leaders.
Focus on Increasing Access, Affordability, and Success for Increasing Diverse and Challenging Populations. The Delta Project Report articulates well the challenge of raising attainment, for an increasingly diverse and challenges student population, in an environment of resource constraint. Dennis Jones’ presentation to SHEEO in 2009, “Heightened Expectation/Diminished Resources: What’s a SHEEO to DO?” dramatized the difficulty of achieving growth targets for degrees awarded in this environment.
On the other hand, the combined efforts of groups such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, the Education Trust, and others, are demonstrating that attention to the fundamentals of retention and student success can yield significant results for almost every institution. And the compounded impact of their innovations and research on “what works” will likely have a significant impact by 2020.
Establish a Culture of Performance Measurement and Improvement with Transparency and Accountability. Today, higher education is moving beyond a culture of reporting, moving toward a culture of evidence. In the future, the times and our publics will demand that we be operating in a culture of performance measurement and improvement, with transparency and accountability. Such a culture will require a new constellation of analytics processes and practices in which predictive analytics are embedded in academic and administrative processes to enable real-time interventions and adjustments to aid students at risk, processes deviating from the optimal, and faculty and staff needed development or assistance. We have developed the concept of “Action Analytics” to be a vehicle for advancing such a culture, which we expect to have pervaded higher education by 2020.
Provide Mass Customized, Customized Offerings. By 2020, many learners will expect institutions to tailor offerings to their needs, rather than offering “one size fits all.” There will be many more competitors for e-learning and blended learning experiences, at a wide range of price points. Moreover, many continuing learners will be focusing on a perpetual cycle of filling “knowledge gaps” through participating in free-range learning through communities of practice which provide immediate feedback loops on what is needed to succeed in particular industries.
Discover Systemic Solutions that Span K-20 and Link the Learningforce and the Workforce – and Back Again. Today, institutions of higher education have a poor track record in scaling successful innovations to the entire enterprise. Moreover, K-12 and postsecondary education have been “siloed” even though every state has some variation on a K-16 or preK-20 reinvention initiative. Moreover, the link between K-20 education and workforce has been inadequate.
In reality the achievement of financial sustainability would be considerably easier if we could develop systemic solutions that span K-20 and school-to-work transitions. While we spend more than any other developed nation on education as a percentage of GDP, we waste much of those resources through having to teach the same things two or three times (remediation and the burden of not meeting needs for credit-for-prior-learning), failure to get on and stay on career pathways, and failure to receive necessary attention and mentoring.
By 2020, the combination of K-20 and workforce initiatives, foundation-supported innovations in student access and success, and large-scale longitudinal studies on success should have yielded a constellation of systemic solutions that improve both student success and financial sustainability. Efforts to reduce time-to-degree and total-cost-of-learning will depend on these sorts of initiatives. Today’s strategic planning efforts should seek to advance and support such initiatives, which will be necessary to institutional efforts to achieve financial sustainability.
The next blog in this series will deal with the Principles for Realigning and Reallocating Higher Education (2010-2013). It will be followed by a multi-part blog on It’s Time to Reimagine Higher Education (Part 4) – A Portfolio of Actions for 2010-2013. It will describe four areas of change management focus: 1) Academic and Learning Environment, 2) Administrative Environment, 3) Resources to support Innovations and Realignment, 4) Tools and Structures to Ensure Innovation.