President, Templeton Laird
Most commentators expect the foreseeable future to be dominated by the impact of accelerating change, characterized by technological change, globalization, and climate change. Nearly all agree that high quality higher education will be a key resource on both the national and state levels.
Within that context what will be the most significant policy challenges for Higher Education? To address these challenges college trustees, presidents, elected leaders, faculty leadership, and donors will need to develop and maintain an adaptive course of significant change while securing quality and integrity. The identification of policy options and subsequent decisions need to occur within the framework of broad policy goals supported by continuous research and analysis.
Within this context what are the Strategic Questions for leaders:
- Given the pace of change and growing competition, where will leadership for higher education emerge?
- Given the dramatic changes in national and regional demographics, how will higher education respond?
- In a period of dramatic and sustained change, who will be educated and how will it be funded?
While this paper is focused on Minnesota all states will experience variations on the categories which follow and no states will be immune from major effects of the changes.
A common theme among demographers is that demography is destiny unless organizations plan for that which can be anticipated. Minnesota is currently in a period of significant demographic change which will affect nearly every function of the State. Although much of the change has been documented and known to be coming and ignored by political and most educational leadership, adaptation has been delayed and modest responses have been insufficient.
- Age – without a major influx of younger immigrants, Minnesota will continue to grow older and poorer. Although much attention was paid to the baby boom generation, scant attention was given to the decline in birthrates which began in the late sixties and continues today, most pronounced among higher income white cohorts.
- Diversity – nearly all of the growth in Minnesota’s population in the next two decades will be among families of color and immigration families. ( See Nathan Grawe “Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education” ) Minnesota continues to be a welcoming state for immigrants from around the globe, including significant numbers from refugee communities. Historically these populations have been a source of economic strength throughout the Minnesota’s different economic sectors. External global events (war, weather, internal rivalries, and religious conflicts) have had and will continue to have unanticipated effects on the pace and extent of in-migration.
- Incomes – In the past three decades there has been a major and growing income gap characterized by growing income inequality overall and extreme inequality among racial and ethnic groups throughout the Minnesota’s population and the nation generally. Minnesota’s gap is among the most significant in the nation and affects access to many of the critical functions and services for lower income people and families. Programs of assistance are insufficient and are expensive especially for the State and counties. Many families continue to experience the complex impacts of the most recent recession which will have a negative effect on decisions about college attendance and how to finance it well into the future.
- Education Success – Minnesota also has major gaps in success rates in all levels of education, especially among students of color and low income groups. These gaps are closely correlated with the factors affecting income disparities.
- Impacts on Higher Education – Each of the demographic factors mentioned above have and will continue to have significant impact on access to and performance of those attending institutions of higher education and the institutions themselves. The concentration of significant changes in these factors will have a compound impact on major functions of institutions and those wishing to attend them. As the demographics of future potential students are altered the admissions process will be heavily affected as will the current pricing approaches. The distribution of institutional and government subsidies will need to change substantially absent major increases in private philanthropy or government support or both. (See Jon McGee “Breakpoint The Changing Marketplace for Higher Education“).
Collectively it will be necessary to install new definitions of quality performance in institutions and individuals. Improvements in individual performance may need to be measured over a career rather than the first year following graduation or completion. Institutions are living in a time warp in which institutional quality is largely measured by the characteristics of incoming students (test scores, class ranks and sports records) rather than the long term impact of their college or training experience.
QUALITY OF LEADERSHIP
- Boards – Few boards are leading their institutions in policy discussions as preparation for rapidly changing demographics of future students and factors affecting the success of these students. Current board memberships are generally weak and obsessed with micromanaging administrative activities, sports programs, and fundraising for buildings. (See Kenneth N Dayton “Governance is Governance” )
- Senior Leaders – Most presidents and their senior staff are consumed by protecting the status quo and hesitant to provide leadership for confronting challenges of the future. They avoid the difficult tasks relating to the measurement of the quality of education provided to students and the necessary comparative research to measure the value proposition. However there is scant reward for bold leadership, advocacy of major change, and consistent research to identify current performance and needed change. Among those institutions that appear well off at the moment, the pressure against consideration of major change is immense.
- Faculty Leadership – with few exceptions, current faculty leadership in public and private non-profit institutions is clueless, kept in the dark about budgets and priority setting, fearful, and in denial about the changing environment in higher education, in Minnesota, nationally, and internationally. Substantial change requires faculty buy-in, both in diagnosing challenges and evaluating options.
- Government and Political Leaders – In the past three decades government and political leaders have moved away from a past practice of reaching decisions within an overall policy framework. They avoid issues relating to the measurement of quality and success. They exhibit declining interest in difficult issues relating to the distribution of public subsidies. However driven by social issues, they are not reluctant to limit the ability of researchers to follow evidence into delicate issues. They too are ready to protect the status quo and avoid the difficult decisions relating to changing needs and educational results. Often forgotten is the reality that decisions based on political imperative are destined to be short lived and usually fail, resulting in significant difficulty for institutional leadership attempting to engineer major change over time.
In conjunction with competing pressures for more service at lower costs, state governments have been reducing current and future funding for higher education. This pattern has resulted in a decrease in policy driven commitments, the starvation of infastructure needs, a tendency to equalize funding levels rather than making qualitative judgements, and a general interest in politically driven micromanagement.
In the absence of continuous statewide planning based on rigorous research and careful tracking of rapidly changing economic demands, higher education will struggle to fulfill the needs of future students and an economy in the most dynamic conditions since World War II.
Real competition for traditional higher education has been growing rapidly for at least three decades. The sources include for profit institutions, targeted on line services, new institutions, competency-based skill recognition, in house business services for employees, and broad increases in nationally supported higher education institutions in more than a dozen countries. Headline developments have occurred internationally in more than a dozen nations in fields as diverse as high tech, medical, research, agriculture, science, along with the attraction of quality faculty and students. (See the annual World University Rankings by Shanghai Jiao Tong University. ) Recent radical change in immigration policy and enforcement is dramatically increasing international competition and reducing international enrollments in the U.S. A key area to watch in the future is the further development of research and implementation of Artificial Intelligence.
SUGGESTED FIRST STEPS
- Establish a semi- independent statewide planning commission for higher education with internal research capacity.
- Create a rolling statewide plan to meet changing higher education needs (both economic and general).
- Move to a distribution of state appropriated subsidies based on priority and established need.
- Hold governing boards responsible for institutional quality and fiscal integrity.
- Develop comprehensive assessments of the actual and documented
- quality of institutional services.
- Adjust pricing to reflect quality and clients served.
- Adjust costs to available resources.
- Establish policies to adapt to changing economics and demographics.
- Maintain a comprehensive Risk Management Plan reviewed and approved by the Board.
- Create a non profit family financing plan for higher education.
IF MINNESOTA PLANS TO PARTICIPATE ON THE GLOBAL STAGE IN A RELIABLE AND SUSTAINING MANNER, MAJOR PROGRESS MUST BE MADE IN MEETING THESE CHALLENGES IN THE NEAR FUTURE – LEADERSHIP, POLICY, QUALITY AND CONTINUOUS RESEARCH MUST BE THE KEY MEASURES.
- GOVERNANCE IS GOVERNANCE , Kenneth N Dayton, Independent Sector, 2001.
- THANK YOU FOR BEING LATE, Thomas L Friedman, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016.
- DEMOGRAPHICS AND THE DEMAND FOR HIGHER EDUCATION, Nathan Grawe, Johns Hopkins Press, 2017.
- THE QUALITY OF A COLLEGE DEGREE, Debra Humphreys et al, Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2015.
- BREAKPOINT THE CHANGING MARKETPLACE FOR HIGHER EDUCATION, Jon McGee, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015.
- UNRETIREMENT, Chris Farrell, Bloomsbury Press, 2014.
- THE FUTURE OF UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION, Michael McPherson, American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 2017
- THE INDUSTRIES OF THE FUTURE, Alec Ross, Simon and Schuster, 2016.
- THE VALUE BREAKTHROUGH, Daniel F Sullivan, American Association of Colleges and Universities, 2015.
- DO NOTHING AND DO EVERYTHING, Qiguang Zhao, Paragon House, 2010.