Current Issues

Managing change in a time of crisis

Posted on June 15, 2009

On the 22nd, I will be going to DC to sit on a panel as part of an invitation only “think tank”  called “Thinking Big in a Crisis.”  It’s being put on by the Lumina Foundation and Jobs for the Future and will bring together 40 to 50 policy-makers, educators, foundation heads, and others to think through the big changes underway in higher education. 

 The three higher ed people are Eric Fingerhut from the Ohio Board of Regents, Eduardo Pardon from Miami-Dade College, and me representing private higher ed.  We’ll be joined by leaders in health care, journalism, and architecture, three industries  that have done better or worse in predicting and engaging  with change before it became unmanageable.

It should be interesting and I’m flattered to be invited to represent our sector of higher ed (they must have run out of people).   There is a growing sense among many that higher education is in a phase of cataclysmic (perhaps too strong a word by only a shade) change brought on by a variety of factors.  These include:

  • Cost and shifts in who is willing to pay and how;
  • The rising presence of for-profit providers;
  • The explosive growth of online education;
  • Expansion of what counts for education (certificates; proliferation of masters degrees; myriad delivery formats; prior learning; and more).

On one hand, the recognition that the need for a college degree and ongoing lifelong learning is increasingly critical in our information and technology driven economy should be encouraging.  On the other hand, there is a deep seated sense of anxiety about the future as many of the old assumptions are being challenged.

What is interesting to me about the upcoming meeting is the dialogue between higher education and industries that are grappling with similar seismic shifts now.  From one vantage point, education can be seen as an information-based activity (it is, in its fullness, much more), and as we know, all information-based industries are being transformed.  So too ours.

The university’s strategic plan is a blueprint for our attempt to leverage these changes to our benefit while many of our peers are either ignoring them (in the hope they will go away?) or being reactive.

As Steven Jobs famously quipped, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”   In our own modest ways I think we are attempting to shape our future.

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