|by James L.
[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in
On the Horizon, 1999, 7(6), 2-x. It is posted here with permission
from Jossey Bass
Rodney L. Everhart has
served as president of SCT Education Solutions, a provider of software and services to
higher education worldwide, since January 1, 1998. From 1985 to 1989 he served as CFO.
Everhart previously was CEO and president of LEXIS-NEXIS as well as senior vice president
of Bellcore, the world's largest telecommunication software and services company.
James Morrison (JM): Rod, can you explain the forces driving the use of
information technology tools in education today?
Rodney Everhart (RE): There has never before been a period during
which more forces have had an impact on higher education at one time. The biggest forces
driving educational change today are changing demographics, the demand for unlimited
access, spiraling costs, the issue of competencies versus degrees, the knowledge
explosion, and the increasing need for lifelong learning. I would like to comment on each
one of these if I may.
Changing demographics. The typical
student of the past (a full-time student between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two who
lived in a campus dorm) accounts for about 25 percent of the student population today;
adult and nontraditional learners make up the rest. In fact, the adult learning segment is
approaching 50 percent of the student population. That is a significant change from the
Unlimited access. Today's student
population expects access to information twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. In
the past, we used batch processing: computers were grinding away during the night, and
users had access to them only during the normal workday. That is not acceptable now; data
must be available whenever the users want it, and that demand is driving the use of IT
Spiraling costs. Spiraling costs are
driven by a couple of factors, one of which is cost inflation, which has been greater in
higher education than in other parts of the economy. This increase is due to fixed
facilities and decreases in state and other funding sources. From a cost standpoint, this
puts significant pressure on college and university leaders, who have tried to pass along
cost increases in the form of higher tuition and fees. The present dilemma is that many
constituentsstudents, parents, even the governmentare concerned that there is
an imbalance between the cost of education and the value of what is delivered.
Universities must equalize the value of the education delivered and the fees charged in
such a way that the education consumer feels good about that balance.
Competencies versus degrees.
Traditionally, academic programs have focused on a broad-based, degree-oriented education.
Today, employers are looking for skill sets and competency, not just a degree. There is a
conflict between educational programs and the needs of employers, and that conflict is
opening the door for different kinds of education, such as programs that are willing to
guarantee students' competencies rather than simply their seat time.
Knowledge explosion. We are inundated
with information. The typical student today faces more new information in a year than our
grandparents faced in a lifetime. Instructors must assist students in translating
information into something they can use.
Lifelong learning. In the past, people
could graduate and expect to have a career based on that initial foundation of learning
plus on-the-job training, but that simply isn't the case anymore. The current rate of
change and the speed at which things move from state-of-the-art to state-of-the-practice
are so great that people need to relearn continually. Basic education must focus more on
how to learn, how to keep pace, and how to establish a program of continuous learning on
which to build. People who know how to do those things will succeed. Schools will also
need to provide more lifelong learning opportunities so that people can keep up with this
new challenge. Just two years ago, a computer science graduate proficient in C++ was at
the top of the game. Today, if you aren't knowledgeable in Java, Enterprise Java Beans,
and object-oriented capabilities, you are behind the times.
JM: What are the implications of these forces for educational organizations?
RE: Because of some of these changing dynamics, institutions must
become more competitive than they have been in the past. For example, there are schools
whose main competitive advantage used to be their location; they served students in a
certain territory. Now, however, physical boundaries are coming down. Students can attend
a university by taking the virtual courses it offers, getting degrees from the institution
of their choice instead of from the university physically closest to them. Schools are
going to have to think about and capitalize on their unique differences more than they
have done in the past. To this end, they will need to do more one-to-one marketing and
become more focused upon their constituents.
Sometimes it seems that university
representatives forget their mission and whom they are trying to serve. They should always
remain focused upon their constituents, which means, of course, primarily their students;
but the constituent family also includes employees, faculty, alumni, and prospective
students, both within and outside local geographic boundaries. To serve all these people,
university administrative systems should be able to do more than just manage the
enterprise from a back office. They have to help the university accomplish its real
mission, which is to provide outreach and service to constituents and to strengthen the
relationship that the university has with those constituents. This means that the
information in a university's database has to be given, on a preferential basis, to the
constituents that are affected. This need is driving a whole series of changes, and
universities have to adopt and adapt to new technologies to remain competitive.
Another force I mentioned earlier is the
demand for unlimited access, driven by a desire for self-service. In general, students,
faculty, and employees are happier accessing and influencing data themselves than having
to go through other parties to achieve the same results. At many universities, students
still have to go from building to building and person to person to accomplish a given task
when they would much prefer to handle tasks themselves via the PC by interacting with the
university databaseby going online to register for classes, for example, or to get
their grades, resolve a payment problem, have a transcript sent to a graduate school, or
change their mailing address. To respond to this preference, universities will need to
offer more self-service capabilities so that their constituents can perform such tasks
themselves. This is also good for the university, because if administrative tasks can be
handled through self-service, then the university is free to focus on its primary
JM: In an earlier issue of On the Horizon, Art Padilla described an institution
with a specific educational focus: the University of Phoenix (Padilla, 1999). What role do
you see for the increasing number of corporate and for-profit institutions of higher
RE: Private enterprise is seeing an opportunity to provide a service
and get paid for it. Corporations are motivated by business opportunities, and they're
finding that there is a market for higher education services.
The higher education market is viable for two
reasons. First, we have moved from an industrial economywhere the competitive
advantage was having the capital needed for plant equipment and raw laborto an
information era, or knowledge era, in which knowledge workers are starting to make up the
bulk of the population, and the "capital" is knowledge itself. Knowledge
workers, almost by definition, have to continue to increase their skill sets and to absorb
and digest more information. The competitive advantage in this world is innovation and
creativity. That is one thing contributing to the growth of the education market: we have
become a service economy served by knowledge workers.
Second, the technologies have finally come
together to provide something that wasn't possible before: the delivery of course and
learning materials via the telephone wire. Many technology developments (for example,
telecommunications bandwidth capabilities, the power of PCs, state-of-the-art software
development and delivery) have combined to make this possible. So there is now a way to
access education easily. If you said to me, "Rod, you need to keep up your skills.
You need to go to class every Thursday night," I would have to reply, "With my
schedule, there is no way I can do that every Thursday." And I wouldn't go to class.
But if you tell me that I have unlimited access to this material and can take a course on
Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning or Tuesday at 2 a.m., then I can say, "Now
you're talking. I can do that." When you give me the flexibility of an asynchronously
delivered course, available through the Internet, that I can take at my own pace and at my
own location, then I'm interested in learning. This is the case with tens of thousands of
people who suddenly have access to something they never had access to before and are aware
of it. That is why there is a big growth market for higher education and that is why we are
seeing entrepreneurial, technology-enabled for-profit institutions entering this market.
JM: Many thanks, Rod. We appreciate the opportunity to obtain the perspective
of an information technology business executive on the future of higher education.
Padilla, A. "The University of Phoenix, Inc." On the Horizon, 1999, 7(4), 1, 47. Available online: http://horizon.unc.edu/horizon/online/html/7/4/