James L. Morrison
[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in
On the Horizon, 1997, 5(3), 2-3. It is posted here with permission
from Jossey Bass
Last February the board of trustees of a prominent U.S. university invited me
to their campus to address two questions: Looking back from 2005, what were the
least well anticipated changes in higher education? What are the fresh new goals
a university should have in order to prepare for 2005?
To respond to these questions, I reviewed past issues of On the Horizon
and my scanning files, and I talked with several well-informed colleagues like
Bill Graves (the interim chief information officer at UNC) and Marvin Peterson
(professor, University of Michigan).
My presentation to the board of trustees focused on three signals of change
that are present today and that may serve to guide us in the future,
particularly when placed in the context of strategic planning. The three signals
are the potential breakup of the certification monopoly, the competency
guarantee, and the technology revolution.
The certification monopoly currently enjoyed by accredited educational
organizations is at risk because (1) employers in an increasingly competitive
global marketplace are concerned about the competency of high school and college
graduates applying for employment; (2) employers are publicly expressing doubts
about the validity of transcripts in making hiring decisions; and (3) employers
are relying more on past employment experience, portfolios, and other means of
competency certification and less on diplomas in deciding who to hire.
A second, and related, signal of change concerns competency. Commercial
businesses are beginning to produce educational courses and programs and
certifying the competency of graduates of those programs. In some cases, such as
the International Community College, these courses and programs of study are
produced and distributed in partnership with for-profit businesses and
In response to the concern about graduates’ competency, public schools in
Milwaukee and New York have introduced competency-based testing for high school
graduation. Several community colleges have offered employers and graduates
no-cost retraining if the graduates do not exhibit the competencies implied by
the degree. The Western Governors University assists students to develop
programs of study using a variety of educational courses and programs (on-line
and traditional), but will not grant a degree until applicants pass a
competency-based examination. The newest campus in the California State
University system, CSU–Monterey Bay, is developing a competency-based degree.
These avant-garde institutions have decoupled courses of study from
competency-based assessment and thereby will offer a degree that may well be
more attractive to prospective employers.
The technology revolution, which has sparked a communications explosion
manifested by the worldwide exponential growth of the Internet, is enabling
higher education to move from an infrastructure that is inwardly focused on the
institution and the faculty to an "infostructure" where technology is used to
extend campus boundaries by increasing the public’s access to instructional and
The technology revolution is fueled by many developments: The cost of
computing power drops roughly 30 percent every year, and microchips are doubling
in performance power every eighteen months. A third of Americans already have a
computer at home; 40 percent of these have modems, and by the end of the
century, it is estimated that most homes in the developed world will be
connected to the Internet. A recent survey by IDC(LINK) shows that 92 percent of
all college students have access to PCs, and that two-thirds of them use e-mail
regularly (Marklein, 1997). Financial transactions via the Internet can now be
conducted in a secure fashion. And an increasing number of students, many of
whom have experienced downsizing, rightsizing, and reengineering, want and need
flexible schedules that can be provided by asynchronous communication.
The technology revolution is enabling a transition from distance education to
distributed education. Older forms of distance education such as correspondence
courses and television are being replaced by programs that use the Internet to
take advantage of resources worldwide. For example, in a recent article
(Morrison, 1996) I described
how Professor Lev Gonick sent out a message to several listservs to solicit
professors and students focusing on global political and economic issues. Some
seventy-five professors and several hundred students around the world responded.
After spending the initial part of the semester identifying issues, students
were required to team with other students (who had to be in another country) to
write papers that were posted to a Web site for critique and discussion by all.
Another example: The newly formed IBM global campus includes some 100
universities that have agreed to share catalogs of on-line courses. The intent
is to enable students to enroll on one campus, but take courses on others
Having "looked back from 2005" and identified three forces for long-term
change that exist(ed) in 1997, I returned to real-time 1997 and challenged them
to seize the opportunities posed by these forces:
- To seek out and adopt proven best practice in assessing and certifying
professional and occupational competencies of graduates, especially in those
areas in which the institution has gained recognition
- To establish a global on-site cyber-campus in conjunction with like
institutions around the world
- To become a leader in designing self-instructional multimedia packages in
those areas in which the institution is strong
- To become a leader in designing virtual, perpetual learning environments in
collaboration with public and private sector partners
Consider the implications of this argument for your organization. Can you
meet the challenge imposed by these signals of change? What are the risks you
take if you don’t heed and act on these signals?
Marklein, M. B. "At Colleges, E-mail Is as Easy as ABC." USA Today,
March 5, 1997, p. 6D.
Morrison, J.L. "Teaching in the Twenty-First Century."
On the Horizon, 1996, 4(5), 2-3.