[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on March 29th of this year, was our #7 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2018 countdown!]

If higher education is a ship, it has struck an iceberg. It’s taking on water rapidly, and while the situation is urgent, many people on board simply refuse to acknowledge what’s happening.

The lifeboats in this metaphor? Disruption.

That may sound a little dramatic, but it’s undeniable that many colleges and universities are stuck in 20th-century—or even 19th- century—models of higher education. In our 21st-century world, that’s no longer acceptable. Institutions are floundering, and if they don’t start to catch up, they are going to sink.

The need for disruption

Disruption in higher education needs to happen everywhere, from admissions processes to business practices and from the way we teach to the way we determine student outcomes.

How my university is disrupting higher education

At Maryville University in St. Louis, Missouri, we’re examining every aspect of what’s “traditional” in higher education, right down to the core of the culture. Higher education should be fueled by the desire to deliver opportunities and build meaningful career prospects for a wide range of students. It should not be driven by a sense of elitism—by outdated notions of who deserves to participate, whether it’s who gets to attend or who’s in the room to make decisions about the future.

We don’t define ourselves by the number of students who aren’t admitted—a time-worn bragging point among elite institutions. Maryville defines itself by the number of students we do admit, and, most important, how many we help learn, succeed, and secure the future they want for themselves.

To serve today’s students, we must prioritize their needs in real, tangible ways.

How to disrupt

1. Change the way you deliver instruction.
First and foremost, students need more effective ways to learn. It’s clear to anyone paying attention that personalized learning is what they want and soon will expect. Everyone learns differently. Higher education can no longer rely on “warehouse learning,” cramming hundreds of students in a room, employing only one teaching style and expecting it to work for everyone.

About the Author:

Mark Lombardi, PhD, has served as president of Maryville University in St. Louis, Missouri, since 2007. In that time, Maryville has achieved unprecedented growth and earned national distinction for leading an exciting revolution in higher education.  For 30 years, at three different institutions, Lombardi has served as a faculty member, department chair, director of international programs, vice president for academic affairs, provost, and president. He has also served as executive director of the U.S.-Africa Education Foundation.


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