I want to focus on just a few things. First is this great paragraph:
Educators are not driving the change bus. Leadership in traditional universities has been grossly negligent in preparing the academy for the economic and technological reality it now faces. This failure is apparent in interactions I’ve had with several universities over the past several months. Universities have not been paying attention.
Yes I think this is exactly right. As I have discussed previously, schools in general tend to have control structures that face inward. They are self regulating but tend to ignore external forces because that has worked so far. As the Internet connects the world, it is empowering creative individuals to have more influence than any other time in history. I would also note that educators have never driven the change bus. They are cogs in the machine, not the driver.
The main influence of the Internet is as a force for Disaggregation. This is a breaking apart of traditional structures (especially ones that are based on physical proximity) in favor of ones organized on informational lines. Universities are beginning to experience the fringes of the coming storm of change. I’m not sure many of them understand what is about to happen though. This other section Mr. Siemens wrote is a good springboard to talk about it.
Education can be broken down into numerous areas of functionality:
- Content and curriculum
- Teaching and learning
- Accreditation and assessment
- Research and dissemination
- Administration and leadership
These five areas are all being impacted by a constellation of change pressures that are unprecedented. In short, the functionality of higher education is fragmenting.
If you assume that the functions a university performs can be broken up into sections, then these sections can be outsourced. Once you have outsourced everything, then what remains of the university? If you can’t (or won’t) outsource everything, then what value is in the piece that is left? More importantly, what dollar value can you ask for what is left?
This is where things get ugly for universities. They have gotten used to a increase in tuition rates that is much higher than the rate of inflation for the last 30 years. What happens to them when the rate flattens out (or drops)?
I can understand why university administrators have a hard time even conceptualizing what might be coming. After all, imagine you went to a Ivy League school, then got a job teaching there, then eventually was in charge of it. The school could have been around for a few hundred years. How can you possible imagine that in 10 years it could all change? It’s hard to imagine and scary. Nobody wants to think like that and so universities have a blind spot when it comes to seeing the future. They make an assumption that the future will look like today but the Internet means that everything is being reevaluated. Nothing is fixed anymore. The only constant is change. They must look over the edge of the abyss before they are overcome by events.
“If my answers frighten you, Vincent, then you should stop asking scary questions.”
–Samuel L. Jackson to John Travolta, Pulp Fiction