A central tenet of the educational mission of the bundled research university is that education and research are inseparable components of an organic whole, and that students gain a uniquely valuable education from this system. Therefore, a key initial response to the new competitive situation must be an increased focus on assuring that this mission of the research universities does provide real and unique value to the student. At the undergraduate level, the best way to preserve the viability and desirability of the bundled- function mission of the research university is to make sure those functions are truly synergistic.
At present, most undergraduate students at research universities do not participate directly in research. The courses the students take are often very similar to those taught at colleges where the faculty are not seriously involved in research. In fact, in many universities, many of the courses are taught not by research faculty, but rather by adjuncts or graduate students. These self-imposed decouplings of research and teaching functions serve well the interests of external competitors that seek to capture some portion of the teaching function of the research universities.
Some corrective actions for this problem are straightforward but not necessarily easy to implement. Significantly increased participation of undergraduates in research, for example, is more a matter of choice and policy than resources. Teaching undergraduate courses in innovative ways that weave recent research into the course material is difficult only in that it requires more time and creativity than a course that parallels a widely used textbook Both actions add greatly to the value of the research university undergraduate experience, however, and should be a part of the response of every university.
Other needed actions in this realm are more complicated to achieve since they run into existing competitive strategies. For example, for some universities, getting research faculty into the classroom more often is clearly required if the necessary teaching/research synergies are to be built and maintained. Unfortunately, teaching relief - especially at the undergraduate level - has become a bargaining chip commonly used by many universities in attracting the best researchers. While this is a strategy that is very counterproductive over the long term, it provides a short term advantage that makes it irresistible to some universities. Even in the absence of this special treatment of star faculty, the number of courses taught per year by the average faculty member in a research university has shrunk over the past 30 years in order to enable the faculty to increase their research productivity. Thus there is a real conflict in the balancing of the research and teaching roles of faculty, with both gains and losses to the overall mission of the university to be found with any adjustment of the balance. Persuasive arguments can be made that the balance has swung too far to the research side in many universities for long term stability. However, rebalancing can cause significant internal dissension, and external competitive difficulties. Nevertheless, tighter coupling of the research and teaching functions is almost certain to be necessary in order to preserve the viability of the model of the research university.
In a similar vein, the social structures of the university must be well integrated with the teaching and research functions, such that these structures contribute significantly to the education of the student. Residential colleges in which resident faculty help bring intellectual excitement to the living experience, student organizations that encourage exploration of a profession or development of leadership skills, student research fairs, and similar integrating activities are by now commonplace on most of our campuses. As time goes on , they will become even more important in demonstrating the viability of the model. The days are past when student affairs can be considered to be separate from academic affairs, and creative new ways must be developed for increasing the integration.
Looking to the future, universities must better define the prospective student body that is encompassed within their teaching missions. For many research universities today, the core educational mission really implicitly applies to students who are able to spend full time on campus. Continuing education of non-resident part-time students is done primarily to make money rather than as part of the core mission. As opportunities arise to provide high quality education through DL, universities must decide whether or not their missions encourage them to embrace the opportunity to extend educational opportunity to a much broader set of students. Whether DL is used to further core mission, to make money, or to defend against encroachment by alternative providers will be important in determining how the individual institutions respond to this new technology.
Increased competition in higher education will have the same effect as does competition in the corporate world – excellence will be required for institutional survival. Many of the practices that persist in the still relatively sheltered world of academe must change in order for institutions to compete effectively. Both faculty and administrators must focus on the creation and maintenance of institutional excellence as their highest priority in this new environment.
Because of the strong tradition of shared governance in American universities, faculty must play a key role in creating and maintaining institutional excellence. Certainly this means that faculty must strive to achieve individual excellence in their own research and teaching activities. However, it also means that they have a major role in creating broader group excellence. The minimal levels of institutional accountability generally admitted by tenure mean that faculty encouragement and faculty pressure become critical in creating high levels of group excellence. However, in many institutions today, most faculty accept, or at least tolerate, colleagues who do not seek to perform with excellence in the core missions of the institution. The concept of lifetime employment that is implicit in tenure leads to a stability of community that has benefits, but also major drawbacks. Among them is that criticism of fellow faculty for not performing at high levels is typically muted as a price for maintaining collegiality in this stable world. The critical concept of “academic freedom” is often misused as the rational for allowing peers to ignore these critical core missions of the institution while following their own interests (academic or otherwise ). In order to create the necessary levels of excellence, faculty must take the lead in demanding it of themselves and their colleagues. Tenure, if it is to survive in this increasingly competitive world, must be used to protect the academic freedom of those who are actively seeking and achieving excellence, and not to protect those who have found comfort in mediocrity. Without this understanding, universities will be pushed to a much more clearly corporate mode, in which administrators enforce the growth of excellence through unilateral decisions concerning individual achievement.
Administrators must also focus on creating conditions that allow academic excellence to grow. For example, the for profit universities and the Open University spend very significant sums every year to create new courses. Traditional universities seldom expect to spend more on the creation of a new course than a one course release time for a faculty member. As we move into an era when multimedia teaching becomes the norm, universities will have to devote more of their resources to creating high quality, innovative courses. Similarly, the for-profits spend heavily to assure that faculty keep their teaching skills up to date, while little of this occurs in universities. More will have to be invested in programs to develop and expand teaching skills, and institutional expectations must be created that faculty will avail themselves of these programs regularly. Facilities are increasingly important for excellence in both teaching and research, and universities that lag in this area will find that they are not able to achieve their aspirations for quality. Administrators, working with faculty, must make the hard prioritization decisions necessary to focus the resources of the institution on the building of excellence.
Greater attention will have to be paid in universities to developing methods of helping faculty remain at their most productive levels throughout their careers. The combination of tenure and lack of fixed retirement age make this a high priority if necessary institutional excellence is to be achieved. Industry generally invests enormous sums to constantly upgrade the skills of its employees in order to maintain a competitive edge. Universities will have to behave in a similar fashion. The effectiveness of sabbaticals in this regard needs to be reevaluated in the light of changing family situations, such as two-earner families. Perhaps there are more effective ways to encourage faculty to broaden their interests and experiences. Internal resources will need to be made available to stimulate new directions of research and creative activity. Fuller recognition that individual faculty members at different points in their careers may want to emphasize different aspects of their university activities can lead to a changing profile against which excellence can be measured. This will enable faculty to better focus their efforts on activities that most interest them and are of most benefit to their institutions.
As teaching takes on more varied forms with the development of distance learning and distributed learning, faculty roles will become more diverse. Some will become content providers for multimedia presentations, while others will act as facilitators for those multimedia presentations in the classroom. Some may become experts in mapping content onto the new media in a pedagogically powerful way. Yet others will continue to provide more traditional classroom teaching. New standards for evaluating teaching excellence will have to be created in order to properly weigh these various contributions, and to determine appropriate teaching loads.
An even greater emphasis on institutional excellence than exists now will also have the effect of increasing the importance of having on the faculty individuals of great national and international visibility. Increasing emphasis on student satisfaction will require that those individuals of greatest value are also excellent in one or more of the appropriate modes of teaching. This increased focus on a relatively few individuals will certainly increase their market value, and correspondingly, put downward pressure on the salaries of faculty who do not fall into this favored class. In other words, there will be an exacerbation of the winner-take-all (Frank and Cook, 1996) climate in higher education.
As pressures develop on one or more of the revenue streams that support the integrated research university, it will be necessary to begin to rationalize both the administrative and academic cost structures of the institutions. In doing so, we must note the difficulty associated with price (or expenditures, in a balanced budget) being a surrogate for quality in higher education. For example, US News and World Report, in its rankings, explicitly defines high expenditures per student as a measure of quality. Numerous accrediting agencies carefully monitor expenditures per student, and issue dire warnings if the school is seen to be decreasing the expenditure per student. Thus resistence to significant cost-structure change within the academy will be strong until the competition has made significant inroads into traditional markets and can no longer be ignored.
Nevertheless, universities will have to become much more efficient in their internal provision of services. Typical university administrative rivalries (e.g.. between academic and administrative computing) that limit performance and create inefficiencies will no longer be acceptable. Increased intelligent use of technology to handle business matters inexpensively and rapidly will be necessary, as will purchasing and construction practices that more closely parallel those found in industry. For many institutions, a more corporate-like clear delineation of administrative and fiscal authority will need to be put into place to enable effective response to rapid change and greater accountability.
In addition, most universities will have to recognize that they cannot cover all academic and research areas, and will have to begin to focus their resources on areas that are most important for strategic reasons. This will mean in some cases closing programs completely, and in others, closing some part of the program, such as graduate studies. This raises both external and internal issues. Higher education has numerous important and powerful external constituencies. Alumni, professional groups, governmental entities, donors-- all feel a sense of ownership of the institutions of higher education. These important constituencies will often put immense pressure on universities to prevent closing or modification of academic programs. Graduates fear that their hard-won diploma will be loose value if the program from which they graduated disappears, and professional groups often feel their profession will be demeaned by the closing of a program that trains people for that calling. Because all universities depend on good relationships with government, donors and alumni for resources, they cannot easily withstand major public disapproval, no matter how misplaced. It will be necessary for universities to develop strategies that enable them to convince their many external constituencies the need to sharpen focus in this way. It will also be important that universities be able to close out programs in a cost efficient way. Tenure rules in many institutions require that faculty in closed programs be found a new home in another program. Not only does this limit the savings that can be gained by closing the program, but it usually means that faculty find themselves moved into positions for which they are only marginally qualified. These are constraints on resources and quality that will place those institutions at a serious disadvantage in a more competitive environment.
On the faculty side, faculty governance will also need to be reorganized in many universities. For universities to respond appropriately to the changing competitive scene, the faculty must participate actively in determining the responses. Unfortunately, most faculty governance does not work effectively in meeting the challenges of rapid change. Many faculty, for all of their understanding of how much effort is required to become an expert in an academic discipline, tend to think of themselves as experts in all areas outside of their disciplines, whether or not they have actually given that area any thought and study. Much of faculty governance then becomes spirited debate among the uninformed, where political agendas tend to carry much more weight than desire to find meaningful solutions to real problems. The difficulties become even more serious when the important new issues are partially within the academic experience, and partially without. In this more competitive environment, faculty must devise governing mechanisms that provide more rapid, and better informed input if they wish to be heard as a group. Otherwise, administrations will be forced to seek critical faculty input from special committees or from individuals.
Distance (and Distributed) Learning
DL will begin to make inroads into the undergraduate experience, both as a precollege component, and as an external supplement to what is offered at the student’s university. Most universities will find it advantageous to create DL programs that represent their particular strengths and approaches. In this way, they can extend themselves beyond their geographic limitations and gain new students and new revenues that can support the core activities. In doing so, they can also hope to more than make up the losses suffered when their own students take courses from competing purveyors of DL. As noted above, however, each university will need to understand where DL fits within its own educational mission.
Once students have experienced effective and innovative DL courses, it will be difficult to satisfy them with traditional lecture courses. Consequently, innovations in on-campus education will have to occur at a more rapid rate than they have in the past. In particular, the teaching methods developed in DL will need to be adapted to on-campus teaching. This “other DL”- distributed learning - will change the way in which many courses are organized and taught, with corresponding redefinition of faculty teaching roles. For example, something more like the Open University model might be appropriate for these courses, in which the basic subject matter is presented in a distributed learning mode, and classroom time is spent in a tutorial mode. For these courses, the vertical integration of the teaching function would cease to be the norm as different faculty assume different roles in the process. With the flexibility of asynchronous methods, distributed learning mediated courses will not need to fit into neat semester long packages, and the classroom will be only one of the many locations where learning takes place.
Universities will have to find a way to accommodate increasing student demands to be allowed to take DL courses from competing institutions without harming their own credentialing authority. A possible solution would be to allow the students to choose among a restricted set of authorized DL courses that have been found by the faculty to be of appropriate quality. This situation is not unlike what now happens with transfer credits, although the pressure to accept more DL credits than are typically accepted as transfers will be high. Alternatively, students could be allowed to choose among certain competing DL courses as the distributed learning component of the “Open University” type of course described above, thus incorporating the “foreign” DL courses into the course structure in a natural way. Accommodations to this new pressure will have, of course, both financial and academic implications that will need to be carefully considered by each university.
At the graduate and professional level, the changes are likely to be even more dramatic. Here, the bundling of research and teaching is obviously important. However, as remarked above, at this level the primary social structures of the university are generally of much lower importance, and these students are adults who are foregoing significant income in attending school full time. Consequently, many graduate and professional programs will find it advantageous to use DL extensively in order to provide the flexibility that will attract the best students. Brown and Duguid (1996, 2000) have argued that one of the primary roles of graduate and professional programs is to provide a socialization into disciplinary communities, a process that requires a mentoring experience. Although there is considerable variation from field-to-field, it is obvious that major components of most graduate and professional training do require intense mentoring experiences. Consequently, graduate and professional programs that are strategically balanced mixtures of DL and place-specific, person to person interaction are likely to be most effective in attracting the best students. Creative use of such programs would also enable universities to increase significantly the number of students who could be educated effectively in chosen programs. This could provide important financial and reputational benefits.
In order to compete effectively in the arena of non-degree continuing education, universities will have to pay close attention to the needs of the market, and the innovations of the competition. Anecdotal information regarding recent graduates of prestigious institutions indicates that many are choosing to get needed additional education from non-traditional suppliers (e.g.. on line courses certified by alternative credentialers) for reasons of convenience and responsiveness to specific job needs. The continuing education market of the future will be considerably more varied, demanding, and unforgiving than the market of the recent past.
Most universities will find it necessary to partner with other universities and with a variety of for-profit corporations in building their DL programs. Effective DL programs will be expensive to produce, and it will be counterproductive for all if every university produces the same set of programs. Thus finding the right partners will be critical, and there is clearly a benefit to those universities that move quickly to ally themselves with high quality partners who bring complementary strengths. For-profit corporations will be important potential partners, for they can provide capital and types of expertise not typically found in universities, such as marketing and production skills. All of these partnerships will put great pressure on administrative structures and traditions of shared governance because they will require careful attention to interests outside of the university and faster decision times that usually occur in academic settings.
Universities and their faculties will have to come to grips with at least two DL generated issues that seem from certain perspectives to be relics of the pre-competitive era. Ownership of, or share of profit from, DL courses is a major issue on many campuses today. In the competing for-profit sector, all ownership of, and proceeds from intellectual property go to the corporation, not the creator. This has not kept that sector from creating valuable intellectual property at a remarkable rate, however. The for-profits can then plow almost all profits from courses back into the creation of new courses. Universities, on the other hand, are being asked to liberally share profits from a course with faculty involved in its creation, thus limiting the institutional resources available to create the next course. In a competitive world, this is a formula for falling behind.
Similarly, many faculty are now arguing for the right to contract individually to create DL courses for corporate entities. These same corporate entities may then enter into direct competition with the faculty member’s university using the faculty member’s course. In a system that is not strongly competitive, such activity on the part of faculty is not particularly damaging to the university. However, in the competitive world that we are entering, it is contrary to the long-term interests of the faculty member and his university.
Faculty members increasingly will have to recognize that their individual actions can actually damage the long-term viability of their university in a competitive era. Attention to the long term health of the university that provides the job and the tenure will have to become a more important characteristic of the faculty-university relationship in a more competitive world.
It is critical that those in higher education consider changes that increased and varied competition might bring. The system of higher education in the United States is arguably the best in the world. It is incredibly diverse, serving a tremendously broad spectrum of student needs and aspirations. It encompasses institutions that have achieved a remarkable synthesis of the dual missions of research and education. Overall, the current system serves the nation and the world well, although certainly not perfectly. However, competition often maximizes a narrow, rather than a global, good. Thus, increased competition has the potential to negatively effect the overall strength of our system of higher education. Only by understanding more clearly our core missions and by understanding the ways in which increased competition might effect those core missions will it be possible to respond in such a way as to preserve and increase the strength of our university system.
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