(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2018 ("The Chariot" Visconti Tarot))
It has become something of a ritual for people to engage in prediction--what I call the oracular function of influence or drivers--in virtually all sectors of production, including the higher education industry. Prediction serves a variety of functions--it draws attention to specific issues; it helps order these issues into hierarchies of importance; it helps to frame the narrative, that is the way in which such issues are understood and discussed; it provides a window on the issues that those in control of the affected institutions are worried about--it reveals institutional fears; and of course it enhances position of those in the business of prediction within the webs of influence in the sectors in which they are embedded (or through which they are trying to make a living).
Julie A. Peterson and Lisa M. Rudgers (co-founders of Peterson Rudgers Group, a consulting firm focused on higher education strategy, leadership and brand) recently considered a set of important trends in the higher education business for 2018--"Saddle Up: 7 Trends Coming in 2018," Inside Higher Education (2 Jan. 2018). This complemented their oracular efforts of 2017 (trends coming for 2017). Their predictions are worth considering carefully. They hit the mark in several important ways: (1) identification of key issues that university officials will likely confront; (2) the way in which such official will likely approach the issues and their "resolution"; and (3) the narrative around the issues from out of which an understanding of how to think about these issues are developed. Identification, response, narrative control are the three key elements that will define the administrative "to do" list and control the orthodox way of understanding, thinking about and speaking to those issues.
This post briefly considers the seven issue identified by Peterson and Rudgers and then offers additional trends that will have a high impact on the education business in 2018.
Peterson and Rudgers identity seven trends and then offer their sense of "what's ahead" and useful suggestions about "what to do".
1. Eroding support for higher ed. In the past 12 months. . . What’s ahead: Increasing attacks from a variety of sources -- some unexpected -- on cost, student debt, tenure, free expression, research topics, political makeup and whether colleges offer degree programs and skills that employers require. What to do: Be clear about the value your institution provides to students, alumni, employers and the region. Translate jargon into language, data and concrete examples that demonstrate relevance and value. . . .I agree that the seven trends identified by Peterson and Rudgers are important. I tend to regret some of them and wonder the extent to which the perfectly reasonable suggestions about what to do will prove as effective as hoped. But that is the nature fo prediction!. In particular trends toward the identification of the university with its senior leaders is distressing, though no more than a recognition that these cults of personality, of the incarnation of the institution int he body of a "leader" reflects the intensity of the movement toward a "heroic corporate model" in which the president or her "court" of officials now stand as the personification of the university. This works well for vanguard parties, perhaps, or even hierarchically arranged economic and military institutions. It hardly gives comfort to an institution that is, or was, based on a narrative of free inquiry and an autonomous staff who themselves incarnated an intellectual elite. But this is hardly a surprise and is likely to accelerate in the coming decade (see, e.g., here). Others, especially the clearer long term abandonment of higher education support by public bodies (except as a site for regulation and as a site where social battles can be fought through students and other proxies) have been a long time coming. The former at least since the 1970s; the later since the free speech movement and the global university rebellions of 1968.
2. Challenges to the business model. . . . The Hechinger Report has noted the growing trend of colleges banding together to save on costs. What’s ahead: More financial pressures as enrollment growth slows or declines in traditional markets, increasing closures and consolidations, and questions from board members about innovation and digital offerings. What to do: Use market research to understand what distinguishes your institution and drives student choice. Pursue new and diverse student populations, but be sure you have the campus supports to retain them and help them succeed. Partner with businesses, nonprofits and other institutions to create savings and new opportunities.
3. Violent activism and balancing free speech, safety and climate.. . .What’s ahead: Controversial speakers and hate groups will continue to target campuses for events and rallies. Expect high theater, with demands followed by threats of legal action and press releases about how the university is shutting down free speech. What to do: Review your policies to make sure you have a plan for room rentals, event sponsorship, access to campus by protesters and media representatives, heckler policies, and reasonable limitations on protest. Educate people about your policies and enforce them consistently. Have regular conversations on your campus about protest and speech before an incident occurs. Work continuously to improve campus climate, whether or not your institution is targeted for fliers and other forms of hateful speech.
4. #MeToo movement in the academy. . . .What’s ahead: More allegations from students and faculty members about sexual misconduct, some of it stretching back years; more complaints from LGBTQ, international and other vulnerable student populations; and a corresponding backlash from those who perceive a rush to judgment. What to do: Be proactive. If you haven’t already, survey your population to understand the frequency and nature of sexual misconduct. Review policies and programs to ensure they are working to protect the dignity and safety of complainants and provide fairness to all parties. Look to other institutions for a growing list of best practices and effective interventions.
5. Student safety in Greek life and athletics. . . .What’s ahead: Parents will demand new safety measures to protect students. In both Greek life and athletics, new deaths and injuries will lead to heightened scrutiny and tougher sanctions, both by colleges and through legislation. As the cost of compliance and lawsuits rises, institutions may re-evaluate participation. What to do: Scrutinize your safety practices and policies. College and university leaders must host frank dialogues about campus values and safety that lead to stronger oversight and institutional support for real change, not platitudes.
6. Reckoning with the racist past. . . . What’s ahead: Expect more and broadening concern about historical practices, names and markers. With rising white supremacist activity, Confederate-era monuments and other symbols will continue to be campus lightning rods. What to do: Take steps to understand your institution’s past and the significance of campus symbols, buildings and program names. Higher education is distinctly suited to this work. Consider representative steering committees, faculty expertise and early student engagement. Review existing naming and statuary policies, and establish clear guiding principles for future decision making.
7. Presidents as public thought leaders. . . .What’s ahead: The number of topics important to higher education and worthy of thoughtful commentary will only grow. Fortunately, an explosion of digital media channels will provide leaders with many good avenues to express their ideas. Social media further extends the reach of worthy and interesting commentary. What to do: Identify topics that are compelling and advance the priorities and mission of the institution. Assemble key ideas, data and examples -- and when a moment of news makes the topic relevant, act quickly to provide relevant commentary. Colleges and universities have an obligation -- and an opportunity -- to foster informed debate and model what civil discourse looks like in 2018. Presidents can avoid political land mines if they stay closely connected to mission, avoid partisan rhetoric and pretest draft language with key alumni, board members and other trusted advisers. ("Saddle Up: 7 Trends Coming in 2018," Inside Higher Education (2 Jan. 2018)).
Let me offer a few additional predictions of trends in the style of Peterson and Rudgers.
A. The growth of the part time and contract sector teaching staff. The change in the business model fo the university will have a number of repercussions. Peterson and Rudgers identify several important consequences. But one that likely central to the change in business model is the transformation of the "input mix" for service provision (in English the diminution of the value of a predominately research oriented tenured faculty who teach). Universities will discover that at the margin, research does not justify their costs; this is especially the case where revenues are tuition dependent. What is ahead: universities will increase pressure to outsource research support. This will intensify in fields traditionally funded through grants but will spread to those fields traditionally not involved in the grants. At the same time universities will tend to expect more research bang for the buck (that is the value to the university of the marginal hour devoted to research rather than teaching or service). Expect to see greater emphasis on the way academic production is valued. What to do: Universities will increasingly rely on shorter term contracts for basic teaching and shift from tenured to longer term contract for teaching staff. While research will remain important, especially valued for institutional ranking, the number of researchers will suffer as investment is made on leveraging "impact." The administration of universities will have a free hand here as the faculty will be easy to divide and conquer.
B. The crisis of benefits. Universities have been whining about the costs of health benefits for years. And they have been more aggressively moving to ·curb costs" in two ways. The first is to shift coverage costs to employees (the classical trick is to increase salaries by 1% and the costs of benefits by 4%, resulting in a net reduction of pay). But the perfect state for benefits is one in which benefits payouts approach zero while benefit contributions remain steady or go higher. What is ahead: Expect the university to continue to try to reshape the narrative of benefits. Universities will seek to provide benefit plans that appear to provide coverage in form but which provide much less coverage in fact. Expect universities to push high deductible plans and savings plans that pay well for high income administrators but which serve as traps for low salary staff. Expect as well that administrative costs will increase as benefits will decrease as a percentage of every dollar spent on health care--and the the university will be able to move ahead with this model with impunity. What to do: universities will continue to embrace eugenics prograns and will seek to use benefits to impose health and "lifestyle" choice regimes even as they reduce benefits or make them more expensive. Benefits may not be accessed!
C. The reconstitution of academic freedom. Universities have become increasingly more risk averse and "consumer driven." They tend to cower more intensely in the face of populist demagoguery coming from certain "thought leaders" in all spheres of social life whose influence is leveraged through a complicit social media sphere. That can't be helped, and the university and all of its affected stakeholders most adopt to this new reality. AT the same time, foreign forces have become more important in contributing to the discussion of what might be acceptable especially with respect to the production and dissemination of knowledge in the university. What is ahead: expect a greater effort to reconstitute academic freedom from several different sectors. Foreign governments and social forces will increasingly seek to manage the content of education and research in institutions where their students are placed. Domestic government and research sponsors will seek to manage academic expression of students and faculty either as a matter of compliance ("we must follow rules even if we made deliberate interpretive choices about how we follow those rules to the detriment of academic freedom"). And students, alumni and faculty will seek to manage (i.e., suppress lines of inquiry or the dissemination of some knowledge in some ways to suit their ideological predilections but based on perceived needs to suppress violence, enhance civility, and protect social harmony on campus. What to do: expect universities, with the collusion of faculty will adopt disciplinary codes with greater scope. These will be marketed as having no effect on the core understanding of academic freedom while effectively narrowing its application. Expect as well a movement to restrict academic freedom "in context"-with reductions of such freedoms depending on where it is asserted (classroom, service or research) and by whom (tenured or contract faculty; full or part time staff).
D. The reduction of faculty autonomy. The larger log term trends toward the de-professionalization of faculty--increasing in speed and scope since the run of the century--will continue to accelerate. One can already see efforts to destroy the competence of faculty with respect to teaching, and with respect to knowledge production. Expertise will be fractured and specialized but the idea of the faculty member deeply embedded in governance will continue to recede. What is ahead: Expect that the role of faculty will continue to be reduced as the chasm between faculty and administrative cultures continues to grow. In the long term the trajectory points to the reduction of faculty in their effective service role and the transformation of shared governance. The trend also suggests the growth of an authority in the university to impose cultural orthodoxies on thought and behavior expressed in class, in research and in private life. More importantly it shifts the role of faculty from governance to compliance. What to do: universities will accelerate changes in their internal rules to enhance the scope of administrative discretion to discipline faculty for a broader range of "transgressions" (The Disciplinary University Factory--Faculty Discipline and De-Professionalization as Officials move to Expand Faculty "Misconduct" and Its Control). That discretion will be substantially beyond challenge except in the most egregious circumstances. And it will be put forward to enhance the "good order" of the institution. Expect as well that while the forms of shared governance will be enhanced, the greater the formal enhancement the more likely the effective diminution of faculty involvement in shared governance.
E. The greater connection between wage labor markets and higher education. As undergraduate education has grown, so has its connection with the wage labor markets into which graduates are inserted. Education used to served both economic and civic purposes; it still does, but the civic purposes of education has become quite contentious as society has fractured and as that fracture has turned quite contentious. The economic purposes of education has moved to the center of the university mission of many institutions as students increasingly enroll because an undergraduate degree is a mandatory requirement for insertion in much of the higher end of the wage labor markets. What is ahead: universities will increasingly diversify as they become better targeted to different portions of the wage labor market. That will produce greater distinctions in the kind and quality of education that one gets and the tendency to stratify will accelerate--where one enrolls (and where one teaches) will have profound effects on one's place in economic and intellectual hierarchies. What to do: product differentiation will have to be emphasized. Universities will become more stratified. And with thew stratification and diversity of "product", the nature of faculty inputs necessary will also see stratification, specialization and difference. Sadly it will also produce hierarchy.
F. The great American Cultural Revolution will see in the university a leading actor. There is little doubt that the United States is undergoing a great cultural revolution, one that ironically enough was initiated in part in the university but which, as is usually true in such matters, will be among the first institutions to be consumed by it. That is not a judgement about the American cultural Revolution--its occurrence and likely its trajectory was set in motion by actors long before the present and it will run its course whatever one thinks about it. But in the process it will consume the university. One sees evidence of this in many spaces (e.g., here), including diversity and gender based issues. In the process education itself will be de-centered. What is ahead: expect the university to honker down and conform to lowest common denominator expectations. This is not a misguided impulse. But it also means an acceleration of the trajectory of centering activity on issues of compliance, on stability and on conformity. The university will preserve the outward forms of a vibrant intellectual community but will be wary of encouraging any activity that might bring the ire of key combatants in the current wars for societal domination. What to do: Expect greater control of dissenting voices, greater control of debate, especially of controversial speakers (unless they belong to a dominant community within the university). Expect as well that university stakeholders will increasingly seek alternative (even underground) venues for the dissemination and creation of knowledge that is discouraged within the university). This will produce a reaction already evident at many universities--the effort to control faculty and students in the extent of their liberty to act outside the bounds of their employment or student relationship, especially at institutions that are much more dependent on wage labor market access for their students. But the efforts to extend control of staff to all aspects of their lives--the totalitarian impulse in employment relations, will itself begin to produce a reaction. But it is likely to produce some major controversies, and tragedies, in 2018.