Certainly, change management is no stranger to colleges and universities. We’ve all read, watched, and heard many a description of higher education transformations—on a grand scale, in narrow focus, and everywhere in between. What makes today’s change efforts different, more urgent, or perhaps more vitally important than those of the past? This time the conversation has garnered the attention of key stakeholders who are alarmed enough about tuition rates, student debt, and other troublesome indicators that they are intent on influencing the much-discussed higher education business model.
In his keynote address at the NACUBO 2014 Annual Meeting in Seattle, Bill Gates said: “There’s a certain irony that academic institutions are good at studying other aspects of society—the health care system, or for-profit business. Can you turn that lens on yourself and ask: Is it appropriate that certain degree programs are subsidizing others? Are there degree areas that some universities should get out of, and instead, specialize in areas that they’re particularly strong in? Those questions simply haven’t been asked, and this new environment will force it to happen.”
Much of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s work in education focuses on answering such questions. Its College Ready initiative is dedicated to ensuring that high school students are ready for success in college. The foundation isalso conducting research to evaluatepromising models in education, improveaccess to data that help improve student results, and build knowledge among state and national partners about effective strategies.
One of the Lumina Foundation’s highest priorities is the effort to fundamentally rethink how higher education is delivered, and what outcomes can be expected from postsecondary completion. Just as NACUBO is spearheading scrutiny of the state of current economic models and how to improve them, Lumina is leading a national conversation about the disruptive innovations that are driving the building of a 21st century system to meet the needs of all students. Organizations from the American Council on Education to EDUCAUSE, publications from Fast Company to Inside Higher Ed—are all weighing in on these issues.
Unfortunately, higher education leaders can’t afford to wait for the results of these investigations. In essence, they need to change the tires while riding the bicycle. Take Hank Huckaby, chancellor of the University System of Georgia. In “Rightsizing a System,” you’ll learn about the tough work of consolidating campuses and streamlining administrative services.
“ … if you’re serious about carving a new model of public higher education,” notes Huckaby, “you must be willing to do some hard things and address the tough questions.”
Exemplifying a single institution’s work, “Only-What-You-Need Outsourcing” describes the early efforts of Millersville University, in broadening its online programs in fields where the university has competitive advantage. A typical model for such expansion entails a for-profit company providing marketing, recruitment, retention, and instructional design in return for a share of related tuition revenue. Millersville’s leaders, however, decided that the university was in an excellent position to consider a different model. The strategy, according to authors Roger Bruszewski and Scott Levine: “Couple previous online experience, existing resources, and in-house expertise with specific external point providers that could plug the operational gaps on an as-needed basis.”
Efforts like these are what Bill Gates described as “exciting,” as he addressed NACUBO’s audience. “The role of education to lead the way—for equality, for our country, to create the jobs of the future, to make the best use of technology—is more critical than ever. It will be a period of turmoil and challenge, and I think you will rise to the occasion.”
CAROLE SCHWEITZER is editor in chief of Business Officer.