May 16, 2011

College 2.0: Transforming Higher Education through Greater Innovation and Smarter Regulation

College 2.0: Transforming Higher Education through Greater Innovation and Smarte

Digital technology has not only changed many economic sectors, it has transformed them by lowering costs, increasing access, and delivering the personalized, customized, and interactive experiences that consumers have come to expect. Higher education, however, has yet to experience the kind of disruption and subsequent gains in productivity realized by other knowledge-based industries. While colleges and universities have used technology to streamline back office functions, improve research collaboration, and give teachers new tools to manage their classrooms, they have yet tap the potential of digital technology and embrace private sector-led innovation to transform learning, dramatically lower costs, or improve overall institutional productivity.

Higher education has not changed its basic structure and delivery model because it hasn’t been forced to do so. Protected by government regulations and accrediting bodies, supported by taxpayer subsidies and guided by a collegial, risk averse culture of shared governance, higher education has avoided addressing “the fundamental issues of how academic programs and institutions must be transformed to serve the changing educational needs of a knowledge economy.”

However, an array of forces is now working to disrupt the traditional business model of higher education. Increasing international competition, a decline in government funding, changing demographics, an increasingly mobile population, new-tech savvy students that expect anytime, anywhere customized learning, and the emergence of new commercial providers are just some of the factors threatening the status quo.

Many of the most promising initiatives with the potential to transform higher education are coming from outside the education establishment. Armed with new ideas and the power of Internet-based technologies, these “edupreneurs” are willing to challenge the status quo to prove that education can be affordable, reach more people, and enable students to learn faster and at higher levels.

Whether this new wave of innovation is allowed to flourish and help solve higher education’s productivity crisis is up to policymakers and higher education leaders. If innovation is stifled through restrictive regulations on e-learning, discouraged through funding that fails to reward quality and outcomes, or simply thwarted by complacency within traditional intuitions, then the U.S. is likely to lose its edge to faster moving international competitors.

The U.S. higher education system has long been one of the country’s crown jewels. With the right leadership and policy choices, it will remain so.