Perspectives on the future of U.S. higher education

Interesting…this is from 5 years ago…see if you think they were accurate…or not.

Experts Ponder the Future of the American University

By Karin Fischer and Ian Wilhelm

American universities have long set a global standard for higher education. But U.S. institutions will have to change, an international panel of experts said Monday, if they want to retain their edge and help the country in an economy ever more dependent on knowledge and innovation.

“The American model is beginning to creak and groan, and it may not be the model the rest of the world wants to emulate,” said James J. Duderstadt, president emeritus of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and one of the speakers on a panel assembled by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars here to discuss the university of the future and the future of the university.

The other panel members largely agreed with Mr. Duderstadt’s assertion that higher education could be among the next economic sectors to “undergo a massive restructuring,” like the banking industry has seen.

Among the factors that could lead to change, they said, are the globalization of commerce and culture, the accessibility of information and communication technologies, and the shift in demographics in developed countries that will result in the need to educate greater numbers of working adults.

One model of a new approach to education could be the for-profit University of Phoenix, whose president, William J. Pepicello, also spoke at the Wilson Center forum. He argued that higher education must be more responsive to and tailor the curriculum to students’ needs. Web sites like Google and Yahoo take note of users’ preferences to give them information more attuned to their needs, he noted, adding, “Is there any reason why a higher-education platform shouldn’t be able to adapt?”

Mr. Duderstadt said that, despite universities’ reputation for being hidebound, there’s a long history of higher education changing in “extraordinary ways” to respond to outside forces. As two examples, he cited the Morrill Act, which created land-grant colleges, and the increase in federally sponsored research activity that followed the launch of the satellite Sputnik by the Soviet Union.

Those instances are proof, Mr. Duderstadt argued, that national policy can drive change. The challenge, he said, is that the United States lacks a coherent national policy for using higher education to drive economic development. By contrast, many Asian governments are spending on universities and research to advance their economies. The American approach to higher education is very “laissez faire,” Mr. Duderstadt said. “That’s why the U.S. is in trouble.”

The University of Tomorrow

When asked to predict what the university of tomorrow will look like, Mr. Duderstadt suggested two ideas: the global institution and the “meta” institution.

On the first point, he said, higher education has always been international, but in the future, there will be a growing number of universities or consortia of universities that compete on a worldwide level for students and faculty. They will also define their missions as trying to solve large issues, like climate change or global societal inequities.

The so-called meta university will be built on rapidly advancing information technology and such applications as OpenCourseWare, digital libraries, and social-networking programs that facilitate peer learning.

While this “new form of collective human intelligence” will change how universities operate, it does not threaten their existence, Mr. Duderstadt and other speakers said.

John L. King, vice provost for academic information for the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, said universities are deep repositories of academic knowledge that can’t simply be replaced. “They’re not going to be wiped out,” he said.

He pointed to the U.S. automobile industry as an example. Although it has fallen on hard times and must change radically to be competitive again, it remains centered in Detroit and will likely be there for the near future.

New technology will, of course, alter some academic practices. Mr. King predicted that OpenCourseWare and similar learning tools could mean the end of the “guild status” enjoyed by professors and the death of tenure.

But, in all, traditional higher-education providers are going to remain useful and important to society, just like electronic devices that have long been seen as approaching obsolescence, Mr. King said.

“We still use radio even though the television came along,” he said.