Shifting from a Scarcity Mindset to an Opportunity Mindset

Chess game
Series: Costs Down, Quality Up

Historically, initiatives to improve quality have also meant added cost—smaller class sizes, more faculty who conduct research, etc.—but this is no longer a sustainable model for all institutions. What are the innovations that can actually drive the cost to educate a student lower while driving critical outcomes like student success and completion higher? This series offers provocative questions that challenge the cost-quality paradigm and the old ways of managing institutional strategy and growth.

Also in this series:
Why Good is Still the Enemy of Great at Most Colleges and Universities
Rethinking General Education: Too Many Options?
3 Ways to Address the Cost/Quality Challenge Facing Higher Ed: Lessons from the Healthcare Sector
Overcoming the Heavy Weight of Tradition: A Practical Approach

by Amit Mrig, President, Academic Impressions

The Danger in a Scarcity Mindset

Many institutions have responded unproductively to economic scarcity in recent years—often by freezing in place. Institutions have reduced spending, streamlined inefficient practices and shelved futuristic plans, in effect trying to do the same work with fewer people and fewer dollars.

We don't mean to sugar coat or deny problems. The lack of investment capital or any number of other critical resources presents real and difficult challenges, leaving institutions with hard choices to make. But this way of reacting reinforces a dangerous dynamic that is prevalent on many campuses, something we call the “scarcity mindset.” By this we mean that prevailing beliefs, even amongst leadership, are uninspired and self-limiting – “we’re carrying too much, change is hard, it won’t work, we never have enough resources, we’ve always done it this way, lets stick with the tried and true.”

The danger in this thinking is that we operate in a passive mode—reacting to events as they occur—as opposed to a proactive mode —responding thoughtfully and opportunistically to changing conditions. We become skilled at advocating for resources, but not at creating them. In fact, this way of reacting is not new, it’s the way higher education has operated for decades. As articulated in “The Other Higher Education Bubble,” we have always assumed that more resources are a prerequisite for providing higher quality of services.

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