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The Next 10 Years: Five Challenges Facing Higher Ed Administrators

The Next 10 Years: Five Challenges Facing Higher Ed Administrators
The rising importance of institutional management and the increasing focus on student success are among the most significant challenges higher education administrators will have to navigate in the next decade.

How does that Peter Allen song go? “Everything old is new again.” When I think about the challenges higher ed administrators will face in the coming years, that song comes to mind, because most of our challenges have been around for a while now. Some, however, will have a new twist.

So, in no particular order, here are five challenges on our horizon and the twists that accompany them. I invite you to add to this discussion by listing some of the challenges you see in our future in the comments below.

1. Retiring Boomers

The top of the list has to be the aging of the Baby Boom generation. They’re retiring, and as that happens, they’re leaving gaps at every level of our institutions. There are some great efforts underway to fill that pipeline with a broader representation of our society, which can only be a good thing.

The twist is the number of non-academic leaders finding their way into leadership roles these days. In the past, our leaders came up through the ranks, and opportunities still exist to do just that, but the days of every leadership position being filled by a former academic are over, and I for one am glad to see this happen.

2. Dwindling Funding

Number two on my list is, of course, funding. We cannot continue to grow tuition at rates that price the next generation out of the system; we have created a scenario where we’re actually limiting access to higher education.

The twist in this dynamic is already upon on us and will continue to unfold over the next two or three years; the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act that signals Congress getting more involved in the business and management of higher ed. While the general consensus may be that the present-day Congress is incapable of doing much of anything, it’s a safe bet they will find new and different ways to impact higher ed as they work through this process.

3. Focus on Success

Third on my list is retention/graduation. Have you noticed there’s more and more attention being paid to this area over the past few years? Thirty-one million Americans who started, but did not complete, their education is simply too many.

The twist here is very interesting: Historically, employers accepted the output of higher ed institutions, looking primarily for people who knew how to learn and then training them as needed. Today, employers are looking for new graduates who do not need to be trained before they become productive, and that will change a lot of conversations in the coming years.

4. Growing Technology

Technology is king; Big Data is already shaping our future; we’ve been genetically altering our food supply for generations; and the world really is getting smaller as the integration of technology into communications and transportation bring us closer together.

There is a twist, however, and it’s a doozy. You see, even as technology permeates everything we do, the real challenge for higher ed is not just to keep up with these changes and continue our tradition as innovators, but more importantly to do these while attending to the interpersonal development of our students. Employers will need technology-savvy employees who can communicate, lead and follow. With that said, I’m so excited I’m finally going to get that flying car Popular Science promised me back in the 1960s!

5. Improving Governance and Management

Governance is the last on my list of challenges for the next 10 years, and we’re already well under way in this transition. For instance, the tenure track-to-adjunct ratio at most institutions has been steadily changing, and as I mentioned above, there’s a trend developing where non-academics are assuming leadership roles in our institutions. Not surprisingly, these changes are accompanied by new rounds of unionization and calls for greater involvement of faculty in governance.

The twist that sets the next 10 years apart from the past half-century is the sweeping advent of disruptive technology in our industry, and I’m not talking about online learning. I’m talking about the adoption by traditional schools of management models and technologies that come from the for-profit side of the industry. If we do this right, we will change education for the better, and that includes both improving student outcomes and expanding access to higher education. Now that’s a win-win solution.

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