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    The StratEDgy blog is intended to be a thoughtful hub for discussion about strategy and competition in higher education.

“End of History Illusion”
January 6, 2013 - 6:25pm

The “end of history illusion” was coined by Daniel Gilbert and his colleagues. Their research, cited in last week’s NPR article You Can’t See it, But You’ll be a Different Person in 10 Years, showed that people tend to underestimate how much they will change in the future.

You can try it yourself now.

Think about your life 10 years ago.  Where were you in your career? What were your perspectives? How would you describe your family life?

How does that compare to the person you are now? Your current career? Your current personal life?

Chances are, there has been significant movement in all three areas. However, when asked how much a person thought his or her life would change in the next ten years, Gilbert reports: "Their estimates of how much they'll change in the future are underestimates. They are going to change more than they realize.”

Is this same bias occurring in higher ed? Are we underestimating how different the landscape will be in 10 years? In a field that moves notoriously slowly, recently there has been an acceleration of sorts, even as evidenced by how often the word “innovation” is used in our commentary.


Number of times the word “innovation” was used
each year on 2008-2012


Dramatic questions have been asked about the cost of college, disruption, college’s purpose, the rise of administrative jobs, and how we might “revive” American universities.  These questions have sparked much debate. Are we closer to being able to envision the university of the future?

Near the end of 2011, the NYTimes talked with Richard A. DeMillo, director of the Center for 21st Century Universities at Georgia Institute of Technology about his book “Abelard to Apple: The Fate of American Colleges and Universities.”  DeMillo was asked, “So from your vantage point at a leading engineering school, can you tell me what the university of the future will look like?”

And DeMillo answered: “That’s the question everyone asks, but I really believe it’s not the right question. The 1910 landscape for higher education is almost unrecognizable today. A hundred years ago, when Edwin Slosson ranked universities by their reputations, there was no public funding of academic research, and his list of the top 14 elites included five public universities. Now, public research funding is huge and there isn’t a single public university in the U.S. News top 20. The only thing we can be sure of, here in 2011, is that there’s going to be a wave of innovation over the next century, and 100 years from now, higher education won’t look the same.”

Is higher ed in more of an evolution, rather than a revolution? Are things changing more than we think or even notice, or is it mostly all talk with no real movement at this point?


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