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Turning the Challenges Facing Regional Universities into Opportunities - Blog II of II

Turning Challenges into Opportunities

Blog I in this thread discussed the challenges facing regional universities today. Blog II reveals four ways in which these universities can discover fresh opportunities for growth, transformation, reconnection, and revitalization.

Reach out to 2030 to understand the opportunities for regional universities to grow, develop, and transform. Covid and its residual effects have both disrupted and disoriented many institutions and their leaders. Leaders need to break free from the shackles of Covid and the desire of many leaders, faculty, and staff to merely return to the old normal. Institutions must focus more on their entrepreneurial impulses and innovate to develop new opportunities. They also need to expand the boundaries of their operations, processes, and business models. This will enable them to meet the rapidly changing needs of the emerging work and learning ecosystem of 2030. They must work with foresight and benchmark transformative practices at leading institutions and partners in developing their strategies.

These actions will enable institutions to claim a future that enables them to grow, achieve financial sustainability, and become places where faculty, staff, learners, and partners want to develop their talents and achieve success and fulfillment.

Embrace the 60-year curriculum. The knowledge, work, and learning ecosystem is changing and so must higher education to remain relevant. Learning enterprises of all kinds must discover how to serve learners through work and learning careers spanning 60 years, developing entirely new learning approaches to serve learners in this new reality. This will open the door to enhanced enrollment growth through the delivery of new services to existing learner segments and to entirely new sets of learners. Embracing education as a lifelong endeavor requires viewing the total learning continuum, from PreK to end of life. It includes the development of learning maps and cross walks from career to training to help learners navigate these new educational pathways.

These measures will require competency-based education and curricular crosswalks to workforce and career skills. They will also demand greater affordability at all stages.

Transform institutional culture. Today’s institutional cultures are unsuited to the new work and learning ecosystem and the 60-year curriculum. And they are resistant to fundamental change. But they are not immune to change if properly lead, engaged, and challenged. To achieve such transformations, institutions must actively engage leadership, faculty, staff, students, and community stakeholders in building a “shared leadership” culture focused on a future of expanding opportunities–for the institution and individuals.

This requires building an entrepreneurial spirit and culture, one that moves beyond a mere sustainability model to become "a regenerative organization that thinks beyond its business walls and in service of society as a whole. The organization takes responsibility not only for its internal systems, but also for the larger social and natural systems that we depend on."

Engage in regional economic revitalization. Regional universities can play a vital role in the economic revitalization of the geographic areas they serve. They can do this through the coordination of and collaboration with a wide range of partners in their service areas–the K-12 system, other colleges and universities, political leadership, employers, economic and workforce development agencies, NGOs, and federal, state, and local agencies. Such engagement is based on developing a strong regional network to improve the community and region through improved educational outcomes, workforce training and economic development. The goals of these efforts should be to enhance participation in education, extension of this engagement throughout learners’ careers, and using synergistic partnerships to achieve competency outcomes and affordability that have been previously unobtainable. Our book, Transforming for Turbulent Times, addresses this vital role in greater depth in Chapter 7.

Accomplished leaders can utilize a vision of the emerging world of 2030 to gain commitment, craft strategies, develop talent, and forge partnerships to pursue new opportunities that will enable their institutions to overcome the collective trauma of Covid. They can create new revenue streams and revitalize the culture for personal growth and engagement. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for regional public universities that should not be missed.


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