Home >> Part 1 >> Strategy and Leadership

Strategy and Leadership



What is the future of higher education? This is a topic of considerable debate. The public has great confidence in higher education. A March 2012 study by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that 60% of American adults viewed universities as having a positive effect on how things are going in the country, and 84% of college graduates say that the expense of going to college was a good investment for them.1 Others are concerned that colleges and universities are unable or unwilling to be innovative and change in the face of tremendous environmental changes. How are students changing? How is technology changing? How are faculties changing? How are facilities changing? How is the political landscape changing? How are economic factors changing? How are societal norms and expectations changing?

According to the U.S. Department of Education, in the next decade (2010 to 2021), higher education should expect about a 15% enrollment increase, with substantial increases in students from underrepresented racial ethnic groups. Many of these students are first-generation college students and are not ill-prepared for college. Projected increases are as follows:

  • 4% for students who are white
  • 25% for students who are black
  • 42% for students who are Hispanic
  • 20% for students who are Asian/Pacific Islander
  • 1% or higher for students who are American Indian/Alaska Native.2

How students are earning their degrees is also changing. Students are taking free massive open online courses (MOOCs) and obtaining information from multiple sources. Students often attend multiple institutions and mix learning experiences. One-third of students who earn degrees transferred from one college to another on the way, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, and students are more likely to switch from a four-year college to a two-year college rather than the other way around. Colleges and universities compete with for-profit universities, nonprofit learning organizations, commercial providers of lecture series, online services such as iTunes U, and a host of specialized training centers that provide instruction and credentials for particular trades and professions.3

Technology is transforming higher education. MOOCs, adaptive learning software, and unbundling of traditional degree credits increase access to high-quality education and tailor lesson plans to individual needs. Some colleges are delving into hybrid learning environments, which employ online and offline instruction and interactions with professors. Other institutions are channeling efforts into advanced teleconferencing and distance learning platforms — with streaming video and asynchronous discussion boards — to heighten engagement online. Technology is placing tremendous pressures on faculty members to change their methods of delivery.4 Political leaders are encouraging colleges and universities to use technology to a greater extent to become more cost-effective and productive.

Leaders are also encouraging a greater emphasis on reducing facilities costs, effecting energy savings, addressing environmental issues, and increasing services. Frontline campus leaders see aging facilities where deferred maintenance continues to grow, with respect to not only buildings but also electrical transmission lines, high-temperature water pipes, and other infrastructure issues. Leaders see the need for extensive remodeling and equipment replacement, stunningly large start-up costs for experimental scientists, an insatiable demand for information technology resources, and a keen interest in sustainability efforts that require up-front investment.5

The price tag for attending college and the debt load for students and their families are widely acknowledged problems, and political leaders are levying pressure on colleges and universities to minimize tuition and fee increases and to provide greater transparency in disclosing graduation rates and debt loads. A 2011 Pew Research Center survey found that 75% of adults say college is too expensive for most Americans to afford. Moreover, 57% said that the higher education system in the United States fails to provide students with good value for the money they and their families spend.6

Legal, regulatory, and political realities (particularly as they relate to health care, productivity, transparency, and safety) are affecting all colleges and universities. Federal and state political leaders have embraced the “completion agenda,” which calls for significantly more graduates to meet workforce demands at a time when families are concerned about costs. Many states have enacted legislation embracing the completion agenda and changing funding to tie it to student outcomes, including numbers of graduates, course completions, and transfers.7

All public and private colleges and universities have been affected by the availability of state and federal funds for operating support, capital projects, and student financial aid. Public colleges have experienced a dramatic change in who pays. As measured in constant dollars, state and local appropriations per $1.00 in tuition declined from $2.65 in 1991 to $1.27 in 2006.8 “High tuition/high aid” has become a common practice for public colleges and universities.

Other revenue streams — including contracts and grants, private giving, auxiliaries, endowment and interest earnings, earnings from technology transfer (royalties and licenses), hospitals, and other sources — are no longer easy to predict because of external changes, including the impact of health care reform on academic medical centers and the effect of the post-stimulus environment on federally sponsored research.9

A major driver in the debate about the future of the university centers on its business model. Some observers argue that America’s higher education system is broken and current business models simply will not function in the next decade. “The system of financing higher education is dysfunctional. In addition to the lack of transparency regarding pricing, there is a lack of the incentives necessary to affect institutional behavior so as to reward innovation and improvement in productivity. Financial systems of higher education instead focus on and reward increasing revenues — a top line structure with no real bottom line.”10 Some argue that “more” was the guiding principle for 1999 to 2009 — more buildings, more majors, more students, and more tuition — and predict that higher education will become more “unbound,” with students “less tethered to one campus for four years.”11  

Will colleges and universities adopt new teaching approaches that focus on quality and productivity and on student learning needs? Will colleges and universities adopt competency credentialing? Will colleges and universities replace “bricks” with “clicks”? Will colleges and universities resolve price tag and student debt issues? Regrettably, the future is unpredictable, and the changes (or the extent of changes) are unknown. Some colleges and universities are likely to fare better than others in the future. What will distinguish such colleges and universities from others? Strong leaders who have a clear strategy and are accountable for their college's performance and results will make a difference.

Except as permitted under copyright law, no part of this chapter may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means - electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise - without the prior written permission of APPA.
Please use the Print PDF button to print this Chapter.