This is from two parts of Dr. Leroy Nunery's blog series, a Q&A discussion on Higher Education. ESI is using April to highlight our work with higher education institutions. We value and take great pride in our work with colleges and universities. We are currently doing studies for schools in California, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. Stay tuned and keep checking back on our website and social media for updates! To learn more about our capabilities with colleges and universities, please click here.
What does higher ed look like in 5 years? In 25 years?
LN:In five years, I anticipate that several small, tuition-dependent institutions will be forced to consider closure or consolidation for two main reasons: (1) an inability to continue increasing tuitions while containing costs (healthcare, pension benefits, deferred maintenance, etc.) unless abated in some way, will further diminish operating surpluses; and (2) disruption from non-traditional educational entities. It is hard to imagine how institutions of higher education can perpetuate tuition and fee increases in the face of consumer resistance, and maybe more importantly, to explain how this perpetually accreting "good" can bring value to their constituents. More poignantly, the recently exposed "pay for access", "side door" schemes of Richard Singer and others, highlight the anomalies of the current higher education landscape. The most vulnerable institutions are those that have been unable to articulate how graduates benefit from attending their schools. We are already seeing this with a number of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU). Believe me, I'm all for post-secondary education. But, the current structure is out of whack.
LN:In 25 years, "Going to college" will mean gathering information from various sources and platforms. I expect to see more non-traditional players using technology to push curriculum and content, and there will be broader marketplace acceptance for badging, certifications, and skills acquisition which will be totally independent of our "normal" college-going approach. This is already happening: there appears to be a continual flow of private capital directed towards shortening time frames for degree completion, which is a direct threat to the current system.
The other way of asking the above question is: what are the big-picture disruptions, economic shifts, and demographic patterns that institutions need to get ahead of or else face obsolescence?
LN:The most dynamic factor is whether the marketplace will continue to place high value on, and pay for, college degree talent. If alternative pathways to self-sufficiency, sustainable lifestyles, and economic stability are fostered and accepted by employers, then I suspect that potential college-goers will look carefully at other options. Take a look at a New York Times article "Income Before: $18,000. After: $85,000. Does Tiny Nonprofit Hold a Key to the Middle Class?" that describes how a non-traditional "educational institution"(Pursuit)is providing a meaning—and well-paying—avenue for individuals seeking technology certifications. If I were president of a college or university, I'd be watching developments like that and wondering "How should we respond"?
How should institutions think about a China strategy?
LN:I wrote for ESI's blog back in July 2018 entitled, "A Close Look At China's National Education Strategy". In short, China's higher educational strategy is anchored on developing multiple "world-class" institutions that will turn out professionals, technicians, and scholars to meet the demand of the government and the Party. Just like the "One Silk Road" initiatives for transportation and commerce, I found an intentional and policy-driven approach which we lack in the United States, highlighted by establishing kindergarten-Adult feeder systems which identify which skills and knowledge is essential to the country's forward strategy. Partnerships like those between University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education and Beijing University' School of Education will continue to be productive, and those institutions which have articulation agreements like Penn's should enjoy long-term benefits, such as the exchange of faculty and students. Imagine if U.S. institutions were to collaborate to build out similar pathways?
What are some good examples of institutions that are participating in or even leading the effort to make their regions more competitive and equitable?
LN:For the last several years, Washington University in St. Louis has been playing a dominant role in the resurgence of St. Louis as a regional hub. It's hard to imagine any serious conversation about the city's transformation without the University being directly involved. As a member of the university'sNational Council of Gephardt Institute Of Civic and Community Engagement, I am in regular conversation about how the institution's level of engagement—particularly in real estate, retail development, research, civic matters—can be a fulcrum for change.
LN:Here are some great examples from David Maurrasse, Ph.D., Founder& President of Marga Incorporated. Dr. Maurrasse leads a group of "Anchor Institutions" which regularly examines these issues:
What's a wonky thing that plagues universities in terms of financial management, institutional operations, or organizational structure, that you want to identify and elaborate on?
LN:When I worked at Penn (1999 – 2005, Vice President of Business Services), I was in the thick of contracts, privatization, etc. and it always amazed me how long it took to get anything done. As one professor told me, "Lee, you think in terms of minutes, and we (faculty) think in terms of eons". That one statement stuck with me, highlighting how challenging it would be to make any type of meaningful change, relegating an administrator to be reactive and not proactive. The decision-making processes often lead to inherent inefficiencies and incoherencies within the higher educational ecosystem, which of course, ultimately results in higher costs. Will this ever be resolved? I guess we'll know in a few eons.
Dr. Leroy D. Nunery II is a senior advisor with Econsult Solutions and is Founder and Principal of PlūsUltré LLC, a boutique advisory and consulting company started in 2007 whose mantra of "Inspiration, Imagination, and Innovation" reflects its approach to enhancing the strategic and operational capacities of educational, non-profit, and entrepreneurial entities. Dr. Nunery is an Adjunct Instructor for Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania.