Higher education’s future could include national universities–at least, that’s what a new report proposes.
Grant Thornton’s The State of Higher Education in 2019 identifies a handful of trends and issues that are either emerging or expected to emerge in the coming year–and the biggest of those is the idea of national universities.
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The report urges those in higher ed to “consider the inevitability of national universities.” Those institutions would, logically, operate on a national scale in order to reach more students and meet their needs.
While state-funded higher education has established the colleges and universities we know today (and along with it, academic freedoms, innovation, and diverse offerings), it also has resulted in what Grant Thornton principal Matt Unterman notes are institutional inefficiencies, such as a lack of economies of scale and a siloed delivery on educational mission.
In his section of the report, Unterman says national universities would do more than simply require students to log into online courses from their homes or travel to a single physical location. National universities would operate across all states in a consistent manner, akin to the way retail stores and supermarkets operate. They would serve constituents where they’re located and where they want to be served.
“On the other hand, most consumer-oriented, commercial enterprises already operate on a national scale,” Unterman observes. “As one of the last ‘local’ industries standing, siloed campuses are artifacts of the past, on the road to consolidation and a very different future.”
There are drawbacks, Unterman notes, including the idea that communities are committed to their local schools, that constituents will not accept national universities, and that higher ed moves too slowly as an industry for such a robust undertaking.
But there are a few different ways to establish national universities, including:
- States joining forces: Groups of states could come together and seek economies of scale, similar to the way Western Governors University formed a consolidated online platform across several states
- Private institutions: Private institutions are already establishing satellite locations across state lines, and accelerating these moves could work to create a more sustainable model
- Online providers: Online providers are already accessible across the nation, and a next step could be opening up low-cost locations to compete with more traditional providers
There are more than a few questions about how the nation’s current higher-ed model can remain economically sustainable, due to increased competition and financial challenges. National universities aren’t the only potential path for higher ed, but Unterman argues that “it’s time for higher education institutions to consider an alternate model–a national university–and determine if they will be on the winning or losing end of this developing trend.”
The report also covers data analytics, responding to data breaches, using AI to streamline operations, and using nontraditional approaches to fill talent gaps.