Published on 2014/08/04

Three Lessons Higher Education Can Learn from the Technology Industry

Three Lessons Higher Education Can Learn from the Technology Industry
Higher education leaders could learn from the technology industry’s focus on demand-driven change, collaboration and constant innovation.
As the president of one of the nation’s most innovative and fastest-growing universities, I’m fortunate enough to face daily challenges that require me to draw on my personal values, my creativity and my business management and leadership experience. This opportunity not only allows me to give back to society, but also to be uniquely tested in everything I know — or think I know — on a regular basis. It’s definitely a fascinating time to be in higher education.

While our industry now looks forward an evolving and unpredictable future, it’s my belief that if public higher education is going to thrive in the coming years, the adoption of some of the core principles of the technology industry are key.

Surprised? Higher education and technology are more closely related than you may at first think. Specifically, there are three primary practices of technology-based organizations that would positively impact traditional higher education.

1. Shorter Lifecycles and Continual Innovation

Global competition and technological advancements have dramatically increased the speed of change in the market and concurrently changed consumer behavior. The education that students need to be relevant in the workplace is therefore also changing at a faster rate. This should drive institutions to shorter curriculum lifecycles and faster adoption of new technologies, yet I still hear about five-year revision cycles for academic programs. As most industries are on technology lifecycles of 12 to 18 months, this puts student learning on a much slower and less dynamic pace. To prepare current and future students for the speed of change in the workplace, it’s important for higher education to itself meet that expectation.

2. More Partnerships and Collaborations

Dwindling state support, huge federal aid loan liabilities and an increasing skepticism of the value of higher education all suggest that funds will continue to be difficult to obtain. However, with the growing demands for lifelong learning with shorter lifecycles, a direct conflict over resources rises. To bridge the gap, the concept of partnerships and collaborations with other institutions could be quite valuable. Of course, this is something technology companies have been doing for a long time; from co-branding to open-sourcing, collaboration leads to higher rates of adoption and more opportunities for success. There are tremendous opportunities for institutions to work and partner with one another to meet educational needs. Strategies that seek to create horizontal and vertical alliances could conserve valuable resources, while promoting efficiency for administrative functions, operations and educational programs.

3. Focus on Market Demand-Driven Services and Programs

With education a key component in helping adults secure and keep jobs, higher education content, delivery and experience must prepare students for the actual expectations of the modern workplace. However, in my continual survey of degree programs in the marketplace, I see redundancy in traditional programs with little focus on content areas society is currently trying to address. Growth areas such as cyber terrorism, biohazards, food and water management, global governance and risk management continue to be largely ignored by higher education, despite the demand. Technology is often first to forge ahead when new areas of opportunity are identified (for example, the prevalence of cloud-based platforms and services, of late), so why is higher education continually slow to respond?


Public education that allows learners to enhance their workplace abilities, opens their minds to new possibilities and provides skills and information to improve their lives is of great value to society. And yet, academic leaders have seen resource and enrollment challenges they seem to have difficulty addressing with the necessary speed and decisiveness needed for success. Fortunately, key principles found in technology-reliant businesses may help to illuminate the path forward.

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Readers Comments

Lisa C 2014/08/06 at 3:33 pm

I like these articles about what higher ed can learn from other industries. We need to pay more attention to how successful businesses got that way because our funding safety blanket is rapidly disappearing

Nancy Rodriguez 2014/08/06 at 3:42 pm

i don’t think partnerships are the way to go for the future – not with other schools, at least. we can’t give away trade secrets or market share, we need to focus on dominating markets instead.

    Becky Takeda-Tinker 2014/08/12 at 9:37 am

    As I have an extensive business background I can understand that perspective. However, as each institution is able to define and market what makes it unique, potential students will determine ‘where’ the right fit is for them. Given what I see in our younger generations and their ability to buy/use most things customized to their unique needs, I believe that institutions that continue try to provide for a homogenized audience, as we have done for decades in higher ed, will find themselves increasingly under enrolled.

Wallace Kenyeres 2014/08/06 at 4:11 pm

It’s interesting to consider postsecondary programming through the lens of a 12-18 month lifecycle. Even in subjects like English, functional skills and student outcomes must always be considered, and we need to focus on what our students are getting out of courses that can be useful going forward. It’s not all about the purity of education. Sometimes it’s about making sure our students are as prepared as possible to succeed after graduation.

    Nancy Rodriguez 2014/08/06 at 4:44 pm

    Definitely. That actually plays into the idea of being market-driven as well.

    Becky Takeda-Tinker 2014/08/12 at 9:46 am

    I concur. With the federal deficit continuing to grow partnered with rising student loan default rates, I expect that there will be more pressure on Federal Financial Aid which will result in a more consumer-driven market for higher education. If that were to occur, the demand for an accountable ROI out of educational investments seems inevitable.

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