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Higher Ed Must Change or Die

In the article “Higher Ed Must Change or Die, Jason Wingard, President of Temple University, writes about the critical issues facing higher education. He likens the current dire situation of higher ed to facing a burning oil rig platform where workers must determine how to survive; stay and face the fire or jump into the icy sea. Nokia’s CEO faced this existential question in 2011, determining that the company urgently needed to adapt and reclaim its role as leader of telecommunications and information technology innovation, or risk losing everything.

Winegard uses this example as a metaphor for where higher ed is today. The extreme circumstances we face point to indicators that demand change or demise. Enrollment and perceived value are key indicators of the health of the organization. Winegard contends:

  • Enrollment for both undergraduate and graduate students at U.S. colleges and universities decreased by 4.1% or about 685,000 students in the spring of 2022 compared to spring 2021. The number is compounded even further when you go back to 2020. The overall two-year decline is 7.4% meaning that nearly 1.3 million fewer students are pursuing postsecondary education today compared to just two years ago. Higher education has lost nearly 10 percent of the students.

  • The student debt crisis is eroding the very purpose of accessible higher education. The value of the college degree has reached its peak and is on the wane. Factors include cost and affordability, curriculum relevance, rapidly evolving skill needs, and advances in automation and technology.

Winegard has authored a book called The College Devaluation Crisis: Market Disruption, Diminishing ROI, and an Alternative Future of Learning to discuss the nature of this need for higher education and job readiness balance within the rapidly shifting labor market.

Winegard rightly asks:

Where is the sense of urgency. What will it take for us to recognize that the status quo is not working?”

Solutions require some serious self-reflection by higher education. It will require increased alignment of curricular competencies that crosswalk to work and career skill needs and are constantly monitored for relevancy to the rapidly changing labor and societal environment. It will require ongoing abilities to monitor and assess future trends and respond with agile, responsiveness. It will require the development and sustaining of partnerships across the education continuum, in fact, across the life cycle of learners to workers.

Winegard concludes:

“We need to broaden access, leverage our industry and corporate partnerships to create scholarships and funding sources, and pursue entrepreneurial investments that seek to incubate alternative ventures. This is nonnegotiable; this is our only path forward.”

Our book Transforming for Turbulent Times echoes Wingard’s sense of urgency and his clarion call for extraordinary action, investment, entrepreneurship, and partnerships. We suggest an Action Agenda for undertaking such transformation – starting now.


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