Resistance to Change: Higher Education on the Cusp

Many institutions of higher learning are steeped in tradition with decades of history to honor, preserve, and sustain. Layers of bureaucracy and structure have been built in over the years as schools grew in a time where “going to college” meant living on campus, sitting in class, and learning from the book. Other younger universities, while not as rigid in their legacies, continue to operate on the principles of consistency and formality.

Across the board, there are significant areas of opportunity where we see strong resistance to change despite overwhelming desire for innovative thinking.

A New Digital Divide

Many students expect always-on interactive technology to be part of their daily lives, including their educational experiences. Some members of the faculty, on the other hand, are still slow to adopt digital and open educational resources (OER) over traditional learning tools. Thus, the digital divide in higher education today.

A new “Going Digital” study conducted by the Independent College Bookstore Association (ICBA) illustrates this reluctance to change in a number of key findings:

• Merely 27 percent of faculty surveyed believe that digital materials “have a beneficial impact on student learning compared to print.”
• Only 35 percent feel that “digital course materials provide for a richer and more effective learning experience than print.”
• Just 44 percent of faculty agreed with the statement “students prefer digital course materials over print.”

On the other hand, 97 percent of faculty chose their course materials based on their personal perceptions over any other factor. Print consistently wins out over digital, even though 79 percent admit that digital materials are less costly for their students.

Real-World Knowledge

Another area where we see higher education slow to adapt is in the adoption of competency-based learning models. The concept of competency-based education materialized about a decade ago as a way to add flexibility to the academic experience. The result is a less structured, more personalized education that focuses on the skills students seek to master, while also creating more options for amassing credits toward graduation.

Examples of competency-based learning strategies noted by the U.S Department of Education include:

• Online Curriculum
• Blended Learning
• Dual Enrollment Programs
• Early College High Schools
• Project-Based Learning
• Community-Based Education
• Credit Recovery

All of these strategies enable institutions of higher learning to embrace a new understanding of what students of all ages, and particularly adult learners, want and need to be successful. This is a major paradigm shift for universities that have based academic achievement on time in the classroom, in front of a professor, for a set number of credit hours.

The Road Ahead

Agility is not a word we typically associate with the business of higher education. There is no question that effecting change within a historically inflexible system is nothing less than a monumental undertaking.

It will require new ways of thinking about everything from the academic culture and norms of the institution to the mechanics behind federal financial aid. Yet, colleges and universities with open-minded leaders who can see ahead to the future – and what tomorrow’s students will be looking for – can emerge from the experience one step ahead of their competitors.

The next generation of leaders in education will be faced with important decisions regarding change. If you’re interested in bringing new ways of thinking to higher education, consider Maryville University’s online Doctor of Education degree.


Campus Computing

U.S. Department of Education – Competency-Based Learning or Personalized Learning

The Evollution – Challenges to Change and Innovation in Higher Education

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