Professor and author, Clayton Christensen, argues that major change does not disrupt an industry through slow evolution. Rather, after several indicators have signaled a changing environment, a tipping point occurs where the flow turns into a flood. He created a stir when he predicted that in fifteen years half of U.S. universities may be in bankruptcy, though he hedged this bold statement with a “may be” rather than a “will be.” Since the prediction is a year and a half old, I guess we are down to 13 and a half years.
A prediction that higher education will undergo major change is not bold. It is the only sector of the economy that has not experienced such turmoil. Thirty years ago, the two remaining relatively unaffected sectors were health care and education. If the changes wrought to health care since then are any harbinger, then higher education is in for a ride.
While most discussions on the university of the future try to envision a prototype, Christensen’s service is to question the structure of the higher education industry itself. His percentage can be disputed and a more complex dynamic is likely in which some schools fail, others scrape along, some merge, others form close alliances where each specializes in delivering education in specific disciplines to the students of all members, and some private universities seek to turn into publically funded ones.
To take a step back, future blog entries will examine the higher education sector’s current state as the basis for imagining its future.