Anticipating the Future of Student Life: Seminar Description


Colloquium on the Future of Student Life

Perkins & Will 
[Place to be determined]
[Date to be determined]
James L. Morrison, Facilitator

The world of higher education is being bombarded by tumultuous forces for change as we enter the 21st Century: Virtual classrooms, global communications, global economies, telecourses, distance learning, increased demand for postsecondary education access by both traditional and non-traditional age students, increased competition for "star" students, increased competition for funding, pressure for institutional mergers, state-wide program review, and so on. In order to plan effectively in this climate of change, we must be able to anticipate new developments affecting student life.


The goal of this colloquium is to assist leaders in student life enhance the educational and life experiences of tomorrow’s students by systematically factoring the external environment into their future planning processes. 

The specific objectives are to:

  • identify potential events that could affect student life,
  • derive implications, and 
  • recommend actions vis-à-vis these potential events.


Please review the following publications prior to traveling to the conference:

  1. Mack, T. "An Interview with a Futurist." Futures Research Quarterly, 2003, 19 (1), 61-69
  2. National Education Association. Future of Higher Education
  3. Snyder, D. P. "High Tech and Higher Education: A Wave of Creative Destruction is Rolling Toward the Halls of Academe."   On the Horizon, 1996, 4(5), 1, 3-7.
  4. Boggs, G. R. "Focus on Learning." On the Horizon, 1998, 6(1), 1, 5-6.
  5. O'Banion, T. "Schooling is Out--Learning is In." On the Horizon, 1996, 3(5), 1-2, 5-6.
  6. Morrison, J. L. "Anticipating the Future." On the Horizon, 1996, 4(3), 2-3.


Day 1

3:00-3:20 pm  


3:20-4:00 pm

Driving forces affecting the future of higher education

4:00-5:00 pm

Anticipating the Future: Introduce and discuss Joel Barker video, Discovering the Future: The Business of Paradigms

5:15-6:45 pm

Social hour/dinner  

7:00-8:30 pm 

Identifying potential events that would affect the future of student life 

8:30-9:00 pm

Prioritizing potential events 

Day 2

9:00-9:45 am 

Defining signals of the five most critical events

9:45-10:30 am  

Preparing and presenting reportbacks (five most critical events and signals that they could occur)

10:30-10:45 pm 


10:45-12:00 am 

Deriving first through fourth order implications of most critical event for student life 

12:00-1:00 pm  


1:00-2:00 pm

Prepare and present reportbacks

2:00-2:45 pm  

Given the implications, what actions should student personnel leaders take to enhance student life on their campuses?

2:45-3:00 pm


3:00-3:30 pm   


3:30-4:45 pm 

Distinguished panel response

4:45-5:00 pm   


Identifying potential events that would affect the future of student life 

Events are unambiguous and confirmable. When they occur, the future is different. Event identification and analysis are critical in anticipatory planning. In this exercise, we will be developing event statements.  It is important that an event statement, like the event itself, be unambiguous; otherwise, it is not helpful in the planning process. If an event statement is unclear, people may understand the statement differently. Furthermore, an unclear statement cannot establish a concrete target that allows us to derive implications and action steps. Write event statements as headlines that would appear in a newspaper.


Consider the following event statement: There will be significant changes in political, social, and economic systems in the U.S. Each person on a planning team may agree with this statement, but may also interpret it differently. It would be far more useful in analysis for a statement like: The political right gains control of Congress. Or Minorities become the majority in 10 states. The latter statements are concrete, unambiguous, and signal significant change that could impact higher education.

Another point. We should not include an impact statement in the event statement. 


Consider the following event statement: Passage of welfare and immigration reform will negatively impact higher education. There are two problems with this event statement. First, we need to specify each welfare reform idea and each immigration reform idea as an event. Second, it may well be that an event can have both a positive and a negative impact. This statement is convoluted and not useful for planning.

In order to generate event statements, we will use the Nominal Group Process, which is an efficient tool ensuring balanced participation. It requires participants to first think about the question and write down their thoughts on a sheet of paper. Once individuals have had a chance to brainstorm on their own, a facilitator uses a round robin approach with team members to create a list of of event statements. Participants are asked to nominate those events that could be most critical to affecting the future of student life. Only one nomination is given by each participant in each round of nominations, and there is no discussion of the nominations at this time. Instead, a scribe writes each statement in an enumerated list on the flip chart in large text so that all can see the nominations. Under normal circumstances, this process continues until there are no more nominations. Next, the facilitator guides the team in a discussion of each nomination to clarify, discuss, edit, and remove redundancies. Of course the discussion may uncover more events, which will then be posted on the flip chart. (Given time limitations, we may have to curtail the discussion to three rounds before we begin the discussion phase.)

Task:  Use the Nominal Group Process to generate event statements that may affect student life in the next decade.

We will use the Nominal Group Process described above for this exercise. We will begin the exercise by forming into 6-8 person teams and selecting leadership roles in each team. The roles are facilitator, flip chart scribe, reporter, laptop recorder, and paper hanger (a very important task, as you will be generating many potential events that require many sheets of flip-chart paper to be hung on the walls near your table). The laptop recorder will keep notes for the entire team on the proceedings throughout the session, allowing other team members to focus on the discussion.

Once groups have formed, we will address this question:  What are the potential events that would change the future of student life if they occurred? Take five minutes to write down your response to the question. Think broadly through all sectors, including social, technological, economic, environmental, and political, locally through globally. 

Then, begin the round robin process to post nominations from individual team members to the flip chart. Spend 30 minutes taking nominations.

Next, proceed to the discussion/clarification phase in which the facilitator will ensure that team members understand and agree with the event statements (prepare for some rewriting!). In the course of this discussion, new event statements may be nominated and discussed as well. Allot 60 minutes for this phase.

Finally, vote on the event statements in order to identify those events that may have the most impact on student life in the next decade. Use the paste-on dots for this exercise. Each person will be given four dots to indicate his or her selections according to the following criteria:

  • Vote for four of the most likely critical events for the future of student life in the next decade. Be more concerned about the severity of the impact (positive or negative) than about the relative probability of the event.
  • Only vote for a statement once, with one dot.
  • Put all dots by the beginning of the event statement (so that we can quickly evaluate the frequency distribution of dots).

Allot 30 minutes for this exercise. Before the team is dismissed for the day, the flip-chart scribe should prepare a list of the five most critical events that his/her team derived from the exercise (as indicated by the frequency distribution of votes) on a sheet. 

Homework Task: Individually, identify the signals indicating that the five most critical events identified by the group has some probability of occurring in the next decade.

Defining signals of the five most critical events

Task: Use the Nominal Group Process to create a list of signals associated with the events and prepare to reportback.

After 30 minutes of round robin nominations and discussion, prepare the team reportback of the five most critical events and the signals that they could occur. Reportbacks will begin at 10:00 am.

Deriving first through fourth order implications of most critical event for student life

In this exercise, we will be developing an impact network for the most critical event for student life. An impact network (a brainstorming technique designed to identify potential impacts of key events on future developments) is generated by identifying the possible effects of a given specific event. The procedure is quite simple. Any impact that is likely to result from the event, whether negative or positive, is an "acceptable impact." The question is one of possibility, not probability. In an impact network, the initial event is written in a circle in the middle of the page; each first-order impact is written in a circle that is linked to the initial event by a single line; each second-order impact is written in a circle that is linked to the first-impact by a double line; each third-order impact event is written in a circle that is linked to the second-order impact event by a triple line; and so on (see Figure 1). Typically, third- and fourth-order impacts are sufficient to explore all of the significant impacts of the initial event. Also, after identifying third- and forth-order impact, feedback loops may become apparent. For instance, a fourth-order impact might increase or decrease a third- or a second-order impact. If more impacts or higher-order impacts need to be considered, a new network diagram is created. The value of impact networks lies in their simplicity and in their potential to identify a wide range of impacts very quickly.

Figure 1. Impact Network


A completed impact network is often very revealing. In one sense, it serves as a Rorschach test of the authoring team because the members of the team are most likely to identify impacts highlighting areas of their concern. In another sense, by trying to specify the range of second-order impacts, new insights into the total impact of a potential development can be identified. Though an event may stimulate a majority of small, positive, first-order impacts, these first-order impacts may stimulate a wide range of predominantly negative second-order impacts that in total would substantially reduce, if not eliminate, the positive value of the first-order impacts. Feedback loops may promote the growth of an impact that would far outweigh the original estimate of its importance.


A simple example of the use of an impact network illustrates the impact of the elimination of tenure in higher education. As shown in Figure 2, the immediate or first-order consequences of the event were perceived to be (1) reduced personnel costs, (2) more frequent turn-over of faculty, and (3) an improvement in the academic quality of the faculty. Each consequence then becomes the center of an impact network, and the search for impacts continues. For example, the improvement of the faculty's academic quality causes improved learning experiences, students' increased satisfaction with their education, and the accomplishment of more research. The reduction in personnel costs produces stronger faculty unions, more funds for non-personnel items, and decreased costs per student. Increased faculty turnover produces a decrease in average faculty salary, an increase in overall quality of the faculty, and a decrease in the average age of the faculty. Each consequence in turn becomes the center of the third-order impact network, and so on. 

Figure 2. An Impact Network: The Consequences of 
Eliminating Tenure

Task: Develop an impact network for the most critical event affect the future of student life.

Write the initial issue in a circle in the center of a blank flip-chart page.  Then, identify five or six first-order impacts until the space around the initial event is occupied. Next, identify the second order impacts by repeating the process for each first-order impact identified by the team. Again, the task is to determine the possible impacts if this event were to occur. Repeat these steps for third- and fourth-order impacts, or as far as the team would like to go. Also, be aware of any feedback loops between levels of impact. Be prepared to discuss the impact network with the whole group.

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