Published on 2014/10/09

How to Overcome Resistance to Educational Delivery Changes

How to Overcome Resistance to Educational Delivery Changes
Re-inventing the educational model to allow students to earn degrees more quickly, without a drop-off in quality, will be critical for institutions that want to grow in the coming years.
Change is often beneficial to colleges and universities. As enrollment management evolved over the last few decades, it helped institutions uncover increased opportunity for enrollment and identify needed revenue streams. However, campus leaders often face challenges when they try to implement change, even when those changes can increase efficiency in learning delivery. Campus stakeholders may resist changes and cling to traditional educational strategies, even as the meaning of “traditional” changes over time.

Two of the most prominent examples regarding this change (and resistance to it) are the growing numbers of adult and online learners, and how campuses have adjusted their educational philosophies to serve them.

The Adult Learner and the Need for Educational Efficiency

Between 2011 and 2021, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) projects an increase of 13 percent in enrollments of students under the age of 25, compared to a 14 percent increase in enrollments of students over the age of 25. By 2021, projections estimate that students 25 and older will comprise 10 million, or 43 percent of the entire college population. Yet many campuses have not adjusted their recruitment and retention strategies for this population, instead relying on the same strategies they use for traditional-aged college students. Attracting and retaining the adult learner requires an efficient program design which maximizes both the students’ and the institution’s limited resources.

For over 30 years, I’ve worked with more than 40 colleges and universities, all of which wished to address a new market of adult learners through unique, efficient program designs. Through my work with them, I realize a key component of the adult program design is a change in the teaching/learning model. Specifically, adult student programs gain efficiency by compressing learning from 15 weeks into as few as five weeks, generating three semester credits in a third of the time taken in a traditional semester format. The model places emphasis on adult learning principles, requires active engagement of the learner, ensures comparability of outcomes and provides a highly structured and efficient learning model for the adult student. This can be difficult for faculty and administrators to adjust to, but when implemented properly, it creates a learning experience better suited to the educational needs and lifestyle balances of the adult learner.

The Online Learner and the Need for Educational Flexibility

Similarly, efficiencies can be gained by adopting online learning. According to the NCES, participation in online course delivery at Title IV institutions in Fall 2012 was strong, with 25.8 percent of all students enrolled pursuing one or more courses online.[2]  This growth is not surprising, as online learning provides flexibility for students. But it also increases efficiency and effectiveness for the campus administration and faculty. For instance, online classes free up classroom space, and faculty formerly not available at a specific day or time can now be scheduled to teach. In addition, adjunct faculty can reside in a different state, providing a broader pool of faculty candidates. According to a study, online learners experience greater efficiency in course registration, payment and billing processes, too.[1]

Increasing Efficiency While Maintaining Quality: The Challenges to Change

Implementing new teaching and learning models to gain efficiencies can be the most challenging of changes for the leader, as we tread on the toes of faculty. Change of this magnitude requires strong vision and leadership, clear communication of the need for change and ongoing inclusion of the entire campus community in the change process. The following obstacles must be overcome to successfully effect academic change:

  1. Gain internal approval from the broad college community — faculty, alumni, staff, students and board members. These constituents must understand that academic change can result in increased efficiency (more students educated in innovative ways) while maintaining academic integrity and quality. Nothing occurs without faculty oversight and administrative accountability. The meetings that are held, votes taken, etc., should be documented, as they will be referenced in the substantive change document (see below). Without adequate involvement and support, particularly from faculty, change in a teaching/learning model will be either passively or actively resisted. The result will be disappointing at best and devastating at worst.

  2. Gain external approval from regional, state and professional associations. When more than 50 percent of a degree program is offered online, approval from the regional accrediting association is required before student recruitment can begin. Significant changes in degree requirements, or the addition of a new degree, typically require regional approval. When in doubt, always consult with your liaison. As mentioned, the change document requires a description and documentation of the internal approval processes followed. Additionally, market research and a proposed budget are required. Allow approximately four to six months from time of submission of your change document for approval. If your degree program is also professionally accredited (business, nursing, medical), additional approval may be required but can generally proceed in tandem with regional accreditation approval. If you plan to offer the online program in other states, or expect learners from other states to enroll, state approvals may be necessary.

Strong leadership, which is committed to change, will be required to meet the learning needs of a new demographic. In the case of the adult and online learner, leaders who cannot effectuate this type of change at their campus may see a decline in enrollments over the coming years. Those who can, however, will likely see enrollment increases without sacrificing academic integrity and reputation.

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[1] Noel-Levitz, The 2013 National Online Learners Priorities Report

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Readers Comments

Neil Parry 2014/10/09 at 1:44 pm

I would consider the internal push-back as more of a challenge than external accreditation and funding requirements. The problem with trying to implement “change” in many institutions is faculty and staff resistance. Often, this is due to poor communication by administration, or an unwillingness to challenge the status quo for fear of staffing impacts (e.g. layoffs). What administration needs to do better is communicate what “change” looks like on the ground, and the rationale for change in the first place. If administration can make a good case for why change has more to do with improving service to online and adult learners than role realignments and layoffs, faculty and staff might demonstrate less resistance.

Richard Choi 2014/10/09 at 3:23 pm

I think faculty and staff have a reason to be suspicious of the change process. Often, when executives start talking about efficiency-oriented change, their singular focus on “efficiencies” (read: financial) causes them to miscalculate service and, correspondingly, student impacts. Educational effectiveness and experience should never be sacrificed for efficiency. Instead, efficiency needs to be understood as improving the educational experience by getting rid of outdated processes or programs so that faculty, staff and students can spend their time on the things that matter to today’s higher ed environment. Sometimes, when you do something better (or, when you improve efficiency), there’s no cost saving. This is a reality I believe some administrations still have trouble accepting.

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