Recent newspaper stories have questioned the value of acollege education (although it is clear that college graduates earn more money over their lifetimes) and the burden of students taking on debt to pay for that education. What isn’t discussed much is how colleges and universities need to change in order to increase value for students and society.

Jeffrey J. Selingo, editor at large for The Chronicle for Higher Education and author of the new book, College books College (Un)bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students, says,“American higher education has lost its way.” He points to the high cost, the high number of non-completers, the proliferation of online courses available anywhere at any time, and a disconnect between what is taught and what employers need.

And there are other pressures on higher education institutions to change and improve. Stakeholders (board members, funders, employers, legislators, state and federal agencies, etc.) want their institutions to be entrepreneurial and create businesses from intellectual property, be responsive to the talent needs of the private sector, provide an ROI that justifies the high cost of a college education, and be more responsible for student access and success, all while fulfilling course requirements in the various disciplines.

In order to change, colleges and universities must first learn; that is, acquire new organizational knowledge and new organizational skills. They must create an organizational routine of feedback, reflection, and active social learning. They must develop a community in which administrators, faculty, and staff are constantly sharing information and seeking performance improvement through new knowledge, new skills, and new applications of knowledge and skills to achieving the goals of the institution.

They need to learn how to examine what they do, compare that to what needs to be done, reflect on what they have learned from their actions, and make the needed changes in the organization. They must be open to true transformation; not simply incremental improvements. 

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