The higher education landscape continues to be immersed in change, with institutions navigating declines in federal and state funding, increased competition, and a shrinking, yet more diverse, student population. As competition in higher education continues to intensify, college and university leaders face a growing sense of urgency to prepare for the future and transform.
Together, the Georgia Institute of Technology, American Council on Education (ACE), and Huron surveyed nearly 500 leaders at four-year, nonprofit colleges and universities to better understand how they are preparing for the inevitable change and disruption.
The collective research, shared in a report titled "The Transformation-Ready Higher Education Institution: How Leaders Can Prepare for and Promote Change," revealed that very few higher education leaders are highly confident that their institutions are prepared to respond to these changing market forces. Additionally, leaders are challenged by public perceptions of the value of higher education and increased competition for students both domestically and internationally.
“Higher education leaders have our work cut out for us," remarks Dr. Ángel Cabrera, president of Georgia Institute of Technology. "This joint research underscores the opportunity and available tools we have to evolve our institutions and reinforce their essential role in our communities."
Nelson Baker, dean of Georgia Tech Professional Education, and Richard DeMillo, executive director of the Georgia Tech's Center for 21st Century Universities, were among the key contributors behind the report. As part of the Educational Innovation Ecosystem at Georgia Tech, their units help to lead and guide the educational innovation mission for the institute.
There is no universal solution for how institutions can successfully evolve the higher education business model. The report suggests creating a culture of shared leadership that considers multiple perspectives rather than a single person or governing body. This model can help institutions prepare and be nimble enough to respond to these changes.
Most leaders recognize changes are needed to respond to the competitive landscape and acknowledge these investments should align with the evolving student population, with the majority of respondents indicating they are rapidly overhauling their academic programs, investing in technological improvements, and expanding online offerings.
“The fastest growing population in higher education is adult learners, now comprising nearly half of the total learner population. Working professionals have vastly different needs than those of the traditional student,” said Baker. “That shift coupled with the fact that technology allows us to provide educational opportunities on a global scale makes it imperative that we plan more strategically and prioritize agility in order to meet the needs of learners today and in the future.”
Yet only 14% of the leaders planning technology investments have strategic technology management integrated across their institutions—suggesting a potential gap between intentions and leadership’s capacity to realize the value of these investments.
“Many institutions subscribe to planning models that were built for a different time and a different competitive market,” said Peter Stokes, managing director in Huron’s education business. “To become truly transformation-ready, institutions’ short- and long-term planning efforts should link directly to the needs of increasingly empowered, discerning audiences for whom higher education is not simply a next step after high school.”
Leaders that consider a long-term, yet adaptive, strategic planning approach can better anticipate these market trends and make the necessary changes to thrive now and in the future. Yet only 16% of the survey respondents are looking 10 years or beyond in terms of strategic planning.
In April 2018, Georgia Tech’s Office of the Provost released Deliberate Innovation, Lifetime Education, a report that explores the future of higher education. Using the year 2040 as a long-term vantage point, Deliberate Innovation makes recommendations on alternative educational models to reduce costs, improve the effectiveness of current methodologies, and increase opportunities to serve the needs of the next generation of learners.
"At a research university like Georgia Tech, people think very hard about how to structure their research programs to anticipate future needs, but they spend relatively little time thinking about how to innovate on the academic front," said DeMillo. "We want to create an immersive culture where all of the incentives and all the rewards flow to individual institutional leaders and faculty members who are consciously rethinking how to deliver education."
In addition to the survey, several participants were interviewed to offer their perspectives on innovation and its impact on the higher education industry. Portions of those interviews are included in the report, which can be viewed on the Huron website.
Georgia Tech Professional Education is a leader in innovative educational delivery, designed for working professionals in tech, business, and leadership. Our connection to the marketplace — coupled with our world-class faculty, researchers, and subject matter experts — provides an unparalleled prospective to education innovation, industry trends, future work, and lifelong learning. To read more about the premier innovators, collaborative platforms, and cutting-edge research transforming the university of the future, visit the Education & Innovation page.