Changes in Higher Education


APRIL 12, 2001

This paper is a discussion on the changes that are occurring in higher education as institutions organize to meet current needs and prepare for the future. The first part of the paper will consist of a review of a higher education summit that was held a few years ago to help prepare institutions for change. The balance of the paper addresses the thoughts of a few selected management scholars on the process and theories of change.

This discussion is an effort to help us learn more about the changes that we will be confronted with in the future. I’m confident that you will find that KC is effectively addressing most of the factors that are requiring higher education to change. It is my desire that this information will help us develop a sense of comfort with the direction the institution is moving. I hope the discussion will be thought provoking and of interest.


In June 1998, a Midwestern Higher Education Policy Summit was convened in Oak Brook, Illinois, to explore higher education's capacity for change in preparation for the 21st Century. The Summit included representatives from higher education, Legislative, and Executive branches of state governments. The States represented were: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. The Summit identified the following six diverse changes affecting higher education: (1) changes in perception, (2) changes in demand, (3) changes in providers, (4) opportunities in technology, (5) changes and trends in financing, and (6) changes in organizational structures.

(1) Changes in perception - The summit concluded that higher education is viewed by the public as the engine of economic development. They also agreed that American higher education is viewed by the public at large as the best in the world. At the same time, the participants agreed that the public's perception of higher education is one of profound feelings of dissatisfaction, a crisis of confidence rooted in the belief that higher education is inefficient and not accountable. In my view, change in perception can best be achieved by each institution of higher education establishing a comprehensive system of performance assessment measurements and fully integrating the system within the operations of the institution. By doing so, the focus of the institution will be on learning and outcome measures. Also, annual reports on accountability measures should be made public and actively presented to groups and individuals throughout the college district. However, I believe the public has a very positive perception of community colleges.

(2) Changes in demand - It was widely accepted at the summit that the demands for higher education are rapidly increasing due to technology advances. The power of the microchip is doubling in power every 18 months and information is doubling every five years. These actions are causing a great need for retraining. training, and job upgrading in the workplace. For higher education to be fully responsive to these changes in demand, I believe that it is imperative for offerings to be scheduled in non-traditional time frames, institutions must subscribe to the concept of lifelong learning, and offerings must be at locations accessible to the public. Fast track offerings provided over just a few weeks or over a period desired by the employers or students should be considered.

(3) Changes in providers - The summit recognized that changes in demand have increased the number of private institutions entering the higher educational field. The increased importance of a knowledge-based society is motivating new providers to enter the academic marketplace. For-profit providers are creating tailored educational services for students and corporate entities interested in just-in-time, at-your-own-pace, anywhere education. I believe we have a responsibility to be responsive to serving those who are “place-bound and time-bound”, and if it is left to the private sector meeting these needs, it is often at a higher cost to our citizens. Internet course offerings are an example of competition that we must meet head-to-head.

(4) Opportunities in technology - Clearly, the overwhelming theme of the Summit centered around the advancements in technology. Newly developed electronic technologies and a better understanding of learning processes provide opportunities for improvements in higher education. The use of technology is centered on the delivery of offerings and to improve learning in the classroom. Institutions must continue the advancement of using technology to improve learning and use technology for the delivery of programs. Of importance, financial plans for funding new technology must be generated. Given the limited resources that we have, we will need to be creative in financing these needs.

(5) Changes and trends in financing – This topic was of extreme importance at the Summit due to the historical restraint on property taxes, state appropriations’ restrictions, and the concern of higher tuition rates. In a very positive sense, business and industry across the nation in investing ever-increasing funds in the training and retraining of its employees. Given the need to maintain lower property tax rates and to keep tuition at an affordable level, it is imperative that state-appropriations are strengthened. This will allow for acquiring the needed technology, and meeting other instructional and support costs. Colleges must also continue with efforts to acquire funds through the Foundations and grant writing efforts.

(6) Changes in organizational structure – The summit concluded that institutions are implementing new and flatter structures to economize, empower employees, increase flexibility, and to ensure full participation in the development of policies and operations. New structures are necessary for moving from traditional "top-down" to "bottom-up" team-building organizations. Institutions have found in recent years that in order to effectively invoke changes to the culture of an organization, the employees must be involved in the process and they must take ownership in the decisions. In my view, this is best done through a collegial, consensus building organizational structure.

The Summit proposed the following five guiding propositions for the future:
  1. Higher education must be accessible.
  2. The costs of higher education are a responsibility that must be shared by the public, by students, their families, and by employers.
  3. Higher education must be recognized as the very broad and rich system of postsecondary education that has evolved in the past fifty years. This diversity and variety must be sustained.
  4. Public higher education institutions, within the broad mix of post secondary education, must be accountable on the basis of well-defined missions and measures of performance.
  5. Public funding should reflect performance, and funding mechanisms must provide appropriate incentives to institutions and students.
Community colleges generally subscribe to these five propositions. We believe in an . active outreach program that will make education accessible. Under the current funding model in Illinois we have a shared funding model; as a comprehensive institution we provide for diverse offerings; we are highly accountable and subscribe to an assessment plan; and, performance funding is a part of our culture. Thus, community colleges are in step with the views of this higher education leadership summit.


A. Change of Management to Leadership. In his book Leading Change, management scholar John Kotter describes an eight-stage process for creating major changes:
  • establishing a sense of urgency
  • creating the guiding coalition
  • developing a vision and strategy
  • communicating the change vision
  • empowering broad-based action
  • generating short-term wins
  • consolidating gains and producing more change
  • anchoring new approaches in the culture
Kotter maintains that to be a progressive and successful organization you must continually be a transforming organization.

Kotter also cited eight reasons why organizations fail:
  • allowing too much complacency
  • failing to create a sufficiently powerful guiding coalition
  • underestimating the power of vision
  • under communicating the vision by a factor of 10
  • permitting obstacles to block the new vision
  • failing to create short-term wins
  • declaring victory too soon
  • neglecting to anchor changes firmly in the corporate culture
During the Industrial Revolution of the 2Oth Century, the culture of most organizations was a traditional structure (downward driven), thus an emphasis was placed on training managers (an old paradigm), not training leaders. The focus of most management schools was on management skill development, not leadership development. Now, in the Information Age the training emphasis has shifted from managing change to leading change. Although, Kotter maintains that the teaching of management skills is still important and must continue. Kotter also stated, "leadership is the engine that drives change."

B. Levels of Change. Rolf Smith asserts in his book, The Seven Levels of Change, that getting results requires people to think differently. He maintains that to be innovative you have to do things differently. His seven levels of change and seven levels of thinking are included in the appendix to this paper.

C. Culture Shift. Management scholar Price Pritchett states "...our rapidly changing world calls for a culture with quicker reflexes, more speed, agility and flexibility, and the future requires a shift to new responses, it's time to change the way we handle change." The single major problem he cites with making needed changes is that, "when the world changes, the culture can't because people in the organization won't give it a chance."

He points out that in years past we could get by with a slower response time since change didn't move as fast back t hen. Also, competition wasn't as stiff, and the world gave us more room for recovery .The old culture could cope, but those days are gone in this new world of high-velocity change. I have included Pritchett's cultural guidelines for changing the way to handle change in the appendix.

D. Shift to a Process Organization. Antiquated organizations function under a vertical structure with separate departments that tend to operate independently. The organization for today and tomorrow will be a process-oriented organization. The structure will be fairly flat and the focus will be on processes, rather than independent departments. The following chart contrasts the two forms.

Shifting to Process Organizations

Yesterday Today & Tomorrow
Departments <-----> Processes
Vertical <-----> Horizontal
Some are Professional <-----> All are Professional
Delivery <-----> Value Created
Partnerships <-----> Networks

The College Collegium organizational model is excellent for a process structure. The structure suggests full participation of the academic community. Decision making by consensus, a call for more humane education, and empowerment are the themes of this model.

E. Thinking Outside-The-Box: It is important to change the way we think if we are to maintain a responsive organization. Some scholars call this thinking "outside the dotted lines" or "outside the box." For some, it is challenging to think in radical terms rather than conventional ways. As an example, under the new way of thinking, modularized curriculum and cognitive mapping are replaced by learner webs and customized curriculum.

When thinking outside the box:
  • involve time during meetings for just thinking of ideas
  • analyze why something didn't work and then fix it
  • people should feel comfortable trying something new
  • don't punish failure but congratulate them for trying
  • leaders should provide suggestions, encouragement, and moral support to others
  • leaders should encourage risk taking
  • leaders should encourage others to develop options and select the best option
SUMMARY Changes are rapidly occurring throughout higher education as a result of the changing environment in which we live. There are profound national and global transitions taking place that are reshaping not only the present, but also the future. This paper was prepared to share with the faculty and staff a sense of some of the major changes taking place in higher education and to describe what some management scholars are saying about the theories of change. It is my belief that change will be embraced by those affected by change if they are involved in the process of determining changes to be made and the implementation of changes. What's important is that effective leaders in the future will need to be capable of re-framing the thinking of those whom they guide, enabling them to see that significant changes are not only imperative but achievable. Ostensibly, this will challenge leaders to bring those on board who resist change or brace themselves against the winds of change.

Pritchett, Price, Culture Shift, Pritchett & Associates, Inc., 1998
Conner, Daryl R., Managing at the Speed of Change, 1992
Puppert, Sandra S., Report on the Midwestern Higher Ed Policy Summit, 1998
Smith, Rolf, The Seven Levels of Change, 1997
Kotter, John. Leading Change, 1996


Speed up - To hurry should become a part of the culture because competition is moving fast as is a changing market. Don't resist change because to do so sets the organization back. To be slow and careful provides a feeling of safety and security, but this feeling is false in today's rapid pace world.

Stay cool - Changes are taking place all around us and it is imperative to remain in control, be methodical and don't jump to conclusions. Change should be exciting and challenging, but it's important not to over react.

Take the initiative - In the old days one would wait for direction or there was a sense of "just tell me what to do." Those days are over! You slow down the organization if you do not take the initiative and think for yourself.

Get going - To take no action or late action is harmful to the organization. Be a risk taker and learn from your mistakes. You still must plan and organize, but if you take too much time doing so will allow the competition to get out in front of you.

Try easier - Innovate and get out of your old routines if things can be done more efficiently in another manner. Look for easier ways or shortcuts in which to save money and time.

Spend energy on solutions - Negative thinking on the past and "the way it previously was around here" thoughts only waste valuable energy. Spend your energy on finding solutions.

Take more risks - There is absolutely no safety in the status quo. Learn how to explore and pioneer new ideas. Playing it safe is reckless and only hurts the organization.

Don't let strengths become weaknesses - Strengths become weaknesses when circumstances change but behavior doesn't. When people are put under pressure, it is only human nature for them to respond with their strengths. Stick with your well-developed habits where you really shine and get rid of your outdated approaches.

Welcome destruction - Change causes confusion and by its various nature is destructive, however, a culture unwilling to break things won't survive. Sacrifices by breaking from past practices or habits are hard to make but important to do in order to stay strong.

Make more mistakes - Cultures that don't tolerate failure also have trouble developing new efficient ways of doing business. Sometime you will need to take a step backwards in order to take a couple of steps forward.

Shoot for total quality - Change should not create a culture of mediocrity. Don't sacrifice excellence for speed. Don't tolerate so-so performance in yourself or anybody else.


Getting Results: Everyone wants to get good results. To be innovative you have to do things differently. The old saying that most managers in the past subscribed to is: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" The new modem saying is: "If it ain't broke, break it!" Given the advancement in technology, information doubling every five years, and the power of the microchip doubling every 18 months, it is imperative that we continually keep ourselves up-to-date and open to new ways of doing things.

Mindshift Model: (Be Different)

Think about Thinking > Think Differently > Do Things Differently > Different Results! Seven Levels or Change:

Level 1 - Effectiveness -Doing the right things
  • set priorities, focus, do what's important first, become more effective
Level 2 - Efficiency -Doing the right things right
  • follow procedures, understand standards, become more efficient
Level 3 - Improving -Doing things better
  • think about what you are doing, find ways to improve things, listen to suggestions, help, coach, and mentor others
Level 4 - Cutting -Doing away with things
  • stop doing what doesn't count, simplify, ask "why," refocus continuously
Level 5 - Adapting -Doing things other people are doing
  • notice and observe more, read about best practices, think before you think, copy
Level 6 - Different -Doing things no one else is doing
  • think about thinking, ask "why not," combine new technologies, focus on different, not similar
Level 7 -Impossible -Doing things that can't be done
  • question assumptions, defocus: get a little crazy, break the rules, what's impossible today, but...?, wouldn’t it be amazing if…?, where will it take real magic?
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