I’ve been thinking (and writing) a lot about innovation in higher education lately, as the news for many colleges and universities continues to be about “challenges ahead.” For many schools it’s not a pleasant picture: rising costs, low graduation rates, student/employer skills mismatches, a difficult financial model, and the increasing pursuit of new revenue streams. Colleges and universities are responding in a variety of ways, including adding new degrees, entering the continuing education market, commercializing research, and adding student athletic/recreation centers. Sadly, many colleges have already closed or merged and more consolidation in the higher education market is likely in the future. In 2013, Harvard’s Clay Christensen put it this way:
“I think higher education is just on the edge of the crevasse. Generally, universities are doing very well financially, so they don’t feel from the data that their world is going to collapse. But I think even five years from now these enterprises are going to be in real trouble."
I recently had the opportunity to work with a Fortune 500 Silicon Valley company that has been very successful over the years, but knows that the future of IT will be quite different from the present, and this makes it necessary for the company to innovate, to create the future, so they will have a position in that future. Working with the company and a large handful of their top clients, my colleague and I ran an innovation session for them, looking to imagine the clients’ businesses in the future and understand ongoing and anticipated customer ‘pain points’ that R&D can begin to innovate to address these needs. I wonder to what extent colleges and universities are doing this?
Many, if not most, colleges and universities create strategic plans, but I wonder how many of them do innovation plans, or plan for how they want to be – and, increasingly, need to be – in the future. Not an operational plan designed to “take the school to the next level,” or “do more with less,” but one that highlights how they see the future of higher education and the institution’s place in that future. Beyond wishful thinking, that is. MIT did this awhile back with their Final Report on the Future of MIT Education and Georgia Tech launched its Center for 21st Century Universities as a “living laboratory for fundamental change in higher education.” They’re looking ahead to create the future of higher education, rather than waiting for it to happen to them.
What is your organization doing?