In the modern world, technology enables information sharing as well as social and economic connections among peoples who were historically separated by distance and circumstance. Today, more than ever, knowledge is power, and it flows freely on a global basis.
Increasingly, universities are being called upon to help individuals – and communities and nations -- compete and thrive in this highly globalized, tightly connected and intensely competitive environment.
Yet, universities seeking to address this mandate face significant challenges. The journey from a geographically focused Industrial Age charter, to the ambiguous borders of the knowledge economy can be difficult and even frightening to navigate.
Higher education’s economic model is pressured by an oversupply of more than 4,000 post-secondary institutions, high delivery costs, tuition discounting and declining public subsidies. It seems clear that public universities must continue to evolve, and do so more rapidly than before.
Future success most definitely will include a global component, as more and more universities come to realize that the geographical boundaries of the old-school approach are giving way – and that “going global” offers a means to offset the continuing march of budget cuts and resource limitations. Public universities still have a historical responsibility to educate their home state. But with the advent of sophisticated online communications, higher education has the possibility to move out into the wider world. Indeed, true globalization is about more than just importing foreign students to campus or arranging fleeting semesters overseas. Now, it can mean exporting American knowledge to the rest of the world.
An essential part of the solution lies in the source of the challenge: online technology. Indeed, the most rapidly developing trend in higher education is the utilization of network technology to deliver instruction around the world. Every year, more institutions look to benefit from this global phenomenon – with varying levels of success. Crafting a strategy to leverage the vast potential of online learning should make higher education more accessible and affordable. But converting traditional degree programs and certificates into an online format, recruiting qualified students and supporting enrolled students through graduation often stretch an institution’s capabilities. Consequently, many public universities turn to global partners who already have in place an international network that greatly expands their reach and allows them to access outstanding global talent.
When the dust settles, some schools will have adapted more quickly than others, and some will be major winners. Successes in the new global higher education order will go to public universities that have acted with urgency to reposition themselves, embrace the inevitable changes underway and overcome battles aimed at preserving an unsustainable status quo. Universities that are responsive to change will become almost unassailable competitors. They are like sleeping giants that have awakened with a new vision to become super schools. The new public university stays true to their original purpose of educating willing and able students within their own states. But they now see the whole country and beyond as a service area, and with the support of their staff and boards, they are determined to do what is necessary to prosper in an environment of extreme competition and growing globalization. And in prospering as institutions, they can sustain the local support envisioned in their original missions.
Thousands of online contenders are now wrestling for student shares; in just a small sample of study areas, institutions in the United States will be providing more than 500 MBAs, RN to BSNs, MSNs, and MEds online by the end of 2016. To succeed, this new generation of public universities will need to differentiate themselves not so much by what degrees they offer but by how they are offered, aligning requirements much closer to the expectations, needs and lifestyles of 21st century higher ed consumers: digitally oriented, older, married, working, parents, and distracted but self-directed.
Soon, there will only be two types of universities: those with growing enrollments and those with declining enrollments. Universities that are growing will be adding faculty and programs while those that are losing enrollment will be reducing staff and programs. It will not be possible to remain static. Success in the future will be defined more by how many students a university successfully educates rather than rejects. In our network-based economy, becoming a household brand and a top choice for higher education consumers is the sure way to grow over time.
American higher education, and in particular public universities, can attain a new level of global competitiveness and social responsibility. By using their remarkable assets and offering them globally, they have the ability to change the world through access, affordability and high quality, raising the educational bar around the globe. It is this very pursuit of big dreams that has made America the world leader in dozens of fields. It is time for a new and a broader vision for American higher education, which is entrepreneurial, innovative and global.