Creative Destruction: The New Economic Reality in Higher Education

How is Higher Education Changing? Metaphor - Image of a Ship in Foggy Water

How is higher education changing, and can institutions rise to the challenge of their at-risk status? The answer hinges on how college and university leaders choose to respond.

by Marcel J. Dumestre

U.S. higher education is now a business enterprise. No longer is it universally considered a unique social institution dedicated to the common good. The recent Great Recession accelerated this transition process, which has been ongoing for at least the past two decades. Complacency will do nothing more than accelerate a troubling change in culture and society, and a call to action is needed in order for higher education to address this new reality.

This paper will briefly:

  1. Define the new economic reality facing higher education.
  2. Take a closer look at the forces shaping our sector, applying both a macro view ("creative destruction") and a micro view ("disruptive innovation") perspective.
  3. Review some of the prototypical responses of institutional leaders to the crisis facing our sector.
  4. Review two examples of transformational responses, by contrast.
  5. Issue a call to action, offering a four-phrase framework for the type of strategic thinking needed to navigate this future and take our institutions forward.

I hope this paper will provoke thought and conversation on your campus. Please read and share it with your colleagues.


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About the Author: Marcel J. Dumestre, Ed.D.
Marcel is a retired academic administrator who writes about higher education strategy and philosophy of education. He held positions for nearly 30 years as a tenured professor, academic dean, and academic vice president at Saint Mary's University of Minnesota, Regis University, and Loyola University New Orleans. Marcel is recognized as an innovator in distance education, administrative strategy, and academic leadership development. Marcel’s latest book is Financial Sustainability in US Higher Education: Transformational Strategy in Troubled Times (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).

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Photo above by Joel Bengs on Unsplash.