HED disruption

Beyond disruption: The future of higher education

Four main drivers will force institutions to transform and adapt for future success

Universities are in the middle of a transformation that is challenging the status quo and is forcing higher-ed leaders to embrace change if they wish to remain relevant.

Four broad drivers are behind this disruption, said James Phelps, director of enterprise architecture and strategy at the University of Washington and winner of the 2018 EDUCAUSE Community Leadership Award, during EDUCAUSE 2018.

Shifting skills, the digital transformation, employment and income challenges, and the higher-ed financial crisis have brought higher education to a critical space in between disruption and transformation, Phelps said.

Those four topics create a landscape that can give higher-ed leaders a better idea of how higher education is changing and what institutions might look like post-disruption.

Driver 1: Shifting skills

“We have changing relationships on campus and we have to help our staff navigate these changes,” Phelps said. “We have great people, but they need new and different skills now,” he added, citing Gartner research predicting that in 10 years, the IT skills today’s workers will need will be completely different from the skills they possess today.

1. Create a strategic investment fund for reskilling the workforce
2. Build a strategic workforce development center focusing on continuous development and alignment
3. Create a continuous learning and improvement culture among all staff
4. Actively manage human resource debt

Driver 2: The digital transformation

The digital transformation is the change associated with the application of digital technologies to all aspects of human society. It focuses on customer experience design, user-centered design, and hyper-personalization. Those three things are built on data, the Internet of Things, and AI.

“Transformations have three phases, and you have to know where you are,” Phelps said. Those phases are refine, disrupt, and transform, and U.S. higher education is in between disrupt and transform.

1. Build adaptability into every aspect of your organization–we don’t know what the disruptions or transformations will be, so we have to build in adaptability
2. Create a “futurology” practice or program featuring scenario planning or “what if” sessions
3. Actively manage the health of the organization as disruption rolls through

Driver 3: Employment and income challenges

More and more students are experiencing increases in expenses and loan debt. With all the financial burdens students seem to face when they leave college, will students be willing to stay out of the workforce, and wage-earning opportunities, for 4-6 years to earn a degree?

1. Create more, and more graceful, entry and exit points for students
2. Leverage digital technologies to make sure students have the best and most efficient experience
3. Drive down administrative costs through automation, autonomous systems, etc.
4. Look for partnerships to offset student tuition

Driver 4: Higher education’s financial crisis

Some experts predict that more and more colleges will go bankrupt in the not-too-distant future. Many institutions are merging, reorganizing, or restructuring.

1. Automate everything possible to drive down costs
2. Look for merger opportunities to build your institution’s footprint or brand, and find efficiencies
3. Find alternative funding sources, such as partnerships, to offset tuition and list government revenue
4. Eliminate or collapse departments

What does a future higher-ed institution look like after disruption?

These institutions will use algorithms to match students with everything they possibly can, including courses, peer groups, co-curricular activities, advisers and mentors, transportation, and food, said Phelps.

They will provide multiple entry and exit points, and will match prospective students with their “best fit” experience.

Future institutions also will have strategic workforce development that helps guide roles and skills across the university.

“Innovation is constantly focused on the digital experience, on improved efficiency, and broadening the reach of the university,” Phelps said. “Reinvention and innovation will be core to the culture.”

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Laura Ascione

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