Education in the Twenty-First Century:
An Interview with Michael Hooker
by James L. Morrison

[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in On the Horizon, 1997, 5(5), 2-3. It is posted here with permission from Jossey Bass Publishers.]

Michael Hooker, Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a philosophy professor turned academic leader and futurist. After reading his recent chapter, "The Transformation of Higher Education" (Hooker, 1997), I invited Chancellor Hooker to discuss with me this succinct analysis of the forces of change that will affect not only the future of colleges and universities but also that of public K–12 schools. He accepted my invitation and also allowed me to share our discussion of his views in this column.

James Morrison (JM): Michael, what are the forces that will change the way educational organizations perform their functions?

MH: The dominant force driving change in education in the coming years will be the further development of a knowledge-based economy. The economic success of a country or a region will depend on the quality of its intellectual capital. The pace of technological change will require that people be well trained even for entry-level jobs and that they be retrained continuously. In the future, substantive jobs will require fairly sophisticated intellectual abilities--the ability to think abstractly and analytically and to make judgments based on those skills. Therefore we must upgrade the quality of our educational systems, preschool through graduate and professional schools.

JM: How can we upgrade the quality of our educational systems?

MH: To upgrade the quality of student output, it is necessary to upgrade the quality of education provided in our public schools and in our institutions of higher learning. Because the quality of education will be so much more directly related to the quality of the economy, the public is going to pay a lot more attention to (1) education both at the K–12 and higher education levels, (2) the increase in money that they are going to be asked to pay, and (3) some tangible proof of results. The public will demand measurable outcomes. If they see that we can provide these outcomes, they will pay.

JM: Who will be the players in administering and overseeing such a structure?

MH: In a democracy such as ours, legislators usually listen for and respond to the messages from their constituents. As we (and they) know, however, a key element in this issue is results. Legislators will be less concerned with who produces results or how they are produced than with proof. The ability to think creatively, analytically, and abstractly, the most important skills, are not easily measured. We must get more sophisticated in our skill at measuring such abilities.

One direction the public, and thus the legislators, are increasingly willing to experiment with are alternative methods of education and alternative providers. At the K–12 level, I see a significant increase in phenomena like charter schools and proprietary institutions contracting with local school districts to provide education. Private vendors will offer programs at the postsecondary level as well. Most of these programs will be certificate-based rather than degree-based. It is relatively easy to award a certificate demonstrating that a student has successfully acquired a certain knowledge base or skill set. And there is your proof.

JM: Specifically how might all this affect colleges and universities?

MH: The question of what constitutes a baccalaureate degree is relatively fuzzy. It is difficult, if not impossible, to specify the skills and knowledge base a B.S. or a B.A. may signify. Schools differ vastly in which courses they require for a baccalaureate degree and in their grading standards used to measure students’ achievements. Regrettably, but perhaps inevitably, these degrees may be valued less in the outcomes-oriented future. I think your readers will see a four-year baccalaureate education at a good liberal arts college or university as a very good thing, but, at present, it would be difficult to produce measurable proof. Proof, alas, is at the forefront in education’s immediate future. We proponents of liberal arts courses such as philosophy and literature must rise to the challenge of specifying what exactly they provide, taking care to avoid pandering to the demand for measured outcomes that could result in losing the intangible (and perhaps the real) values of such disciplines.

JM: Where does technology fit into this picture?

MH: That is a key question. Another force pushing us toward certificate programs is information technology. Information technology allows educational providers to develop specific learning packages customized to employers’ needs and deliver these packages to employees anywhere, anytime. Moreover, these packages can include assessments that guarantee that employees have been trained to do what their employer needs them to be able to do. Of course, there is the issue of security with on-line learning--who has authored what, and by extension, therefore, whose skills are being certified? But this is not new. Fifty years ago, when a student handed in a term paper typed on an Underwood, how could you be sure that the student authored the paper?

Information technology is also changing K–12 classrooms, driven in part by the demands of students who are totally comfortable with technology, in some cases even more so than are their teachers. The current generation of elementary school students thinks differently (more visually) than earlier generations. We are apt to stumble a bit in our response to this changing student body and in our attempts to redesign our educational offerings, but as we come to understand this new way of thinking, we will make greater use of that understanding in designing digital pedagogy.

JM: How does globalization affect education?

MH: We know how globalization is driving businesses to restructure and reengineer themselves in order to be competitive in a global marketplace. This is a process, by the way, that once begun can never be scaled back. Globalization is also affecting education. English has become the international language, which creates global markets for education in English both at the K–12 level as well as in higher education. We will see the development of gargantuan markets dwarfing anything that has ever existed before in education as a global phenomenon. This market will pull such corporations as IBM, Disney, or Microsoft into providing educational programs directly rather than simply providing some part of it, such as educational software and hardware. As the global market for education develops, we will also see joint ventures between for-profit companies and traditional not-for-profit educational providers as they try to tap market potential.

JM: How will this affect educational organizations?

MH: Once you have all these different players and a changed arena of competition, the whole social organization of both K–12 and higher education will change radically along with governance and management. For example, public K–12 education may evolve into a bureaucracy that will look a lot like European ministries of education, responsible for assuring that the educational needs of a state are met through contracting with for-profit companies, through contracting with not-for-profit contractors in other states, and through the state’s own educational infrastructure, again greatly changed in its social organization and its governance. On the higher education level, it will vary in countless ways. Ivy League colleges and universities are slowly but surely coming into the scene, and several state universities, including the University of North Carolina, are leading the way. For example, at UNC we are extending the resources of the university to the public schools in the state. We have an initiative, Learners’ and Educators’ Assistance and Resources Network of North Carolina (LEARN NC), which has brought together the public schools, community colleges, and universities through a single electronic infrastructure. Through LEARN NC, we have an avenue for public school teachers and higher educational faculty to share their best practices and lesson plans in an electronic environment where they can share their problems as first-year teachers and receive advice and guidance from master teachers and university faculty. They can tap the resources of North Carolina, whether it’s the telescope at the Morehead Observatory at UNC-CH or the Native American Center at UNC-Pembroke, and they can continue their professional development in an on-line asynchronous environment. On campus, we have provided technological campus coverage (and have even extended it beyond the campus for our students and staff); we have programs at every level to inform our students and faculty and to upgrade their skills. But that, Jim, is another chapter, and another interview.

JM: I agree. You have been most gracious in answering what must be oft-repeated questions. Thank you.


Hooker, M. "The Transformation of Higher Education." In D. Oblinger and S. Rush (eds.), The Learning Revolution. Boston: Anker, 1997. Available on-line at

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