The academy faces extinction unless it learns how to learn. Like the dinosaurs, the amazing thing about higher education institutions is not extinction but that they lasted so long. The ivory tower is only now beginning to crumble after nearly 200 years.
Higher Education institutions have resisted change, and for good reason. Their reputation and rewards have come from keeping traditions, maintaining academic disciplines, supporting an insular campus environment, and hiring people exactly like themselves. Faculty, students, and employers depend on degree programs and course offerings that look the same from year to year.
Some exceptions exist but these institutions have only tinkered around the edges change: shortening or lengthening academic terms; eliminating grades and tests; creating interdisciplinary programs; giving credit for life experience; or adding online courses and degrees. Those are relatively modest improvements to a system that is fundamentally the same as a nineteenth century German education.
Now, like many for-profit and non-profit organizations, colleges and universities are facing extraordinary pressure from competition that is global, well-funded, and very attractive to learners of all ages. In order to compete with these “schools”, change at the margins will not be enough; colleges and universities need transformation.
The forces of change are multidirectional and inescapable, especially if you are in a leadership position. An increasingly complex, digital, and diverse world is emerging. It is a world that is shaking the foundations, values, guiding principles, mores, and customs as well as the very existence of many institutions of higher learning. New subjects are being taught in new ways to new types of students. Funding is shrinking, and accountability is becoming relentless. New technologies have altered the workplace, and there are increased demands for change in how student affairs professionals prepare students for post-college success. In this new world, those who adapt to new realities will survive and thrive. Those institutions that endure may look very different from the ones we have known.
In a chapter I wrote for this book, I argue that the future success of colleges and universities must come from creating a learning culture. I call into question the notion that colleges and universities are, by virtue of being educational institutions, bastions of organizational learning. They know how to teach but they don’t necessarily know how to learn as organizations.
To be successful in the years ahead, these institutions need to learn how to continually improve, innovate, and compete for students, resources, inventions, and ideas. They need to continually adapt to a rapidly changing global educational environment. They need to continually learn how to incorporate new technology into teaching, research, and administration. They need to develop capabilities in leadership, teamwork, decision-making, and communication. They need to learn how to plan for an unknown future. All of this will require breaching the barriers of academic tradition and creating a new organizational culture.