Higher education faces many more challenges today than ever before in its history. Colleges and universities are challenged to serve a variety of students, from those who are academically gifted to those who are under-prepared for college-level work. They are challenged by the shrinking pool of traditional college-aged students in the United States. They are challenged by the political pressures regarding the cost of attending college and the growing student debt upon leaving college. These challenges are hitting higher education from many fronts.
While higher education is seen as a critical partner for the future of the United States, it is also experiencing a tremendous amount of political pressure. Public and political expectations, coupled with the soaring costs of a college education, have led to pressure on colleges and universities to become more efficient, to innovate and to perform.
What is performance? That is one of the key questions that higher education leaders must answer. The performance expectations of those inside higher education does not appear to align with the performance expectations of those outside of higher education. This misalignment is leading to more regulations and more frustration. There is a belief among some outside of higher education that if colleges were more innovative outcomes would improve. Yet despite this desire for innovation, the vast majority of funding formulas from state and federal governments remain very traditional. That said, there is also a growing trend within state funding sources across the country to establish performance funding formulas (pay for outcomes) which elected officials believe will make higher education more efficient and produce more, and “better,” graduates.
This paper will explore the current state of higher education and the pressures facing colleges. It will also explore innovation and some of the challenges to innovation in higher education, as well as some of the successes. While this paper will, by no means, provide a definitive direction for colleges and universities, it will recommend some changes that can be implemented on any campus to improve outcomes and efficiencies.
I hope that this will inspire conversations on campuses across the country regarding innovation in higher education.