Disruption · Higher Education

Higher Ed Disruption–Hype or Reality?

In recent years, much has been written about higher education disruption. From those who argue that the business model needs adjustment to those who suggest the sky is falling, everyone has an opinion these days.

In fact, disruption in higher ed is nothing new. A look back reveals several distinct eras of growth and decline in American higher education. Following the expansive growth of the sector in the early to mid 1800’s, we see a rash of college closings and mergers due to the upheaval caused by the Civil War. Flash forward thirty years to the end of the 19th Century and one sees a renewed commitment to expanding the higher ed footprint.

The point is that trying to make sense of this current era, not to mention projecting the future, is not at all clear or straightforward. I have long been interested in this topic and have been fortunate to spend my career at two very different institutions, each of which has weathered the disruption in uniquely appropriate ways. Currently, I am at Bay Path University, a place that has demonstrated a remarkable ability to remake itself over its more than 100-year history. From its roots in 1897 as Bay Path Institute, one of the largest and most respected co-educational business schools in the region to Bay Path University, a women-focused institution enrolling more than 3,200 students across multiple instructional locations and online, Bay Path has been able to evolve in response to the economic, cultural and technological influences of the times.

And so what it is that enables some institutions—like Bay Path—to rise up and achieve resiliency, even in the face of the most dire challenges and disruptive context? I have developed some opinions of my own about this topic over the course of my career, and I will be sharing my thoughts in upcoming blog posts.

For now, let me leave you with this. I do believe that while higher ed disruption is not necessarily new, it is playing out today in much more complex ways. And in our current era, disruption is touching nearly every sector and institutional type. Consider the news that came this week about Harvard’s decision to outsource management of its endowment. Even an institution with the largest endowment in the world is still feeling the pinch from the 2008 economic crisis.

If you have thoughts about this topic, I would love to hear from you.

You can find me on Twitter: @BayPathProvost

And check out what university presidents—past and present– are saying about the future of higher education and disruption.

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