Judging from recent books, articles, and editorials, higher education is poised for a cataclysmic collapse. There is a considerable body of opinion that systemic problems such as runaway tuition, student debt, low graduation rates and pervasive elitism are so wired into the collective culture of college faculty and administrators that only drastic and disruptive measures can break through institutional logjams.
In fact, this list barely scratches the surface.
On the other hand, it is hard to see a looming cliff. Portraying the university as an enterprise immune to change (at best) or actively hostile to it (at worst) is wildly inaccurate and misstates the actual pace of change.
At the start of a new year—and a new administration in Washington whose post-secondary agenda is unknown—it is worthwhile to take stock of the accelerating innovation in higher education.
Systemic problems often demand structural solutions. Five years ago, I was tapped to lead an internal think tank devoted to fundamental change in higher education, Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities. My job is to anticipate the kind of disruptive forces that would have structural repercussions for research universities like Georgia Tech.
Crafting an agenda for change from within a university presents unique challenges, including the complex task of declaring victory. Many of the current issues in higher education seem to require new players, markets, or external agents of change. Yet, I’m convinced that it is equally promising to seek renewal from within.