The 10 Barriers to Innovation in
Higher Education

Innovation Center: Image of reflections on a light bulb

by Melissa Morriss-Olson (Provost, Bay Path University)

Dr. Melissa Morriss-OlsonWhy is it so difficult to nurture innovation and academic entrepreneurship at a college or university?

My keen and longstanding interest in innovation was first fueled by my doctoral dissertation research, conducted in the early 1990s with a focus on small college resiliency. I studied the financial performance and management strategies of 100 small resource constrained institutions over a ten-year period to account for why some colleges thrived while others declined. I found that the most resilient colleges employed several strategies that, when taken together, helped explain their success.

Most significantly, each of these schools exhibited an innovative institutional mindset, something that has been touted recently by prominent higher education thinkers as a critical prerequisite for thriving in these disruptive times. In fact, my research suggests that at the end of the day, institutional resiliency may depend more on mindset than skill set.

Having been in the trenches for more than thirty years, I also know that this is not easy, especially for academic institutions. As legendary management consultant Peter Drucker concludes in his classic article The Discipline of Innovation: "In innovation, there is talent, there is ingenuity, and there is knowledge. But when it is said and done, what innovation requires is hard, focused, purposeful work."

Why is it so difficult to create and nurture innovation within an academic organization? In my experience, significant change will never occur until the forces for change are greater in combination than the forces preserving the status quo. This is especially the case in most academic institutions where the forces for resisting change are often institutionalized in complex and powerful ways.

What are some of these barriers? Here is my top ten list of the most common barriers to change and innovation in higher education:

We hope you’re enjoying this read. The full text of this article or report is complimentary for our Daily Pulse subscribers. to read it!


Get hundreds of articles and reports like this one — to have your Daily Pulse and other updates from Academic Impressions delivered to your inbox.

Daily Pulse is a curated email digest of practical strategies, timely research reports, and current events in higher ed. You’ll also get periodic updates about our upcoming events and other services, as well as free access to hundreds of articles on this site.

We are excited to bring you the most critical updates and reports in higher education. Thank you for your interest!