Critical Trends Affecting the Future of Higher Education in Minnesota

Proceedings of a Preconference Workshop at the 1995 SCUP Joint Great Lakes and Midwest Regional Conference

James L. Morrison
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Jill L. Ericson
Hamline University

Bill Kohler
VOA Associates, Inc.

We are being bombarded by tumultuous forces for change as we go into the 21st Century: Virtual classrooms, global communications, global economies, telecourses, distance learning, corporate classrooms, increased competition among social agencies for scarce resources, pressure for institutional mergers, state-wide program review and so on. In order to plan effectively in this environment, community college leaders must be able to anticipate new developments on their institutions and curricular programs.

The objective of the 1995 SCUP Joint Great Lakes and Midwest Regional pre-conference environmental scanning workshop was to assist participants to develop competency in establishing and maintaining an external analysis capability on their campuses. Although the description of how to do this is available in earlier publications (Morrison, 1992; Morrison & Mecca, 1989; Morrison, Renfro, and Boucher, 1984), the workshop offered an opportunity for participants to experience using several techniques (e.g. critical trend and potential event identification and forecasting events and their impacts) used in anticipatory strategic management. Moreover, the intent was that this experience would enable participants to replicate the workshop on their campuses.

This is a report of the proceedings of the workshop. It is intended to summarize the outcomes of exercises, put these exercises in context, so that you may use them as a guide in conjunction with the references cited above when you implement a similar workshop on your campus.


Trends define the context within which organizations function. Therefore, it is important to identify critical trends, particularly those that are emerging, forecast their future direction, derive their implications for effective planning, and construct plans to take advantage of the opportunities they offer or ameliorate their consequences if they may negatively impact higher education education. In trend identification, it is important to look widely in the social, technological, economic, environmental, and political sectors, locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally.

Therefore, the trend exercise focused on identifying critical trends that define the context within which higher education functions. Participants were formed into two groups. Each group had the following tasks: identify critical trends, select the five most critical ones, select on of these and derive the implications of the trend if it materialized as they thought it might, and then recommend actions that governmental and educational leaders in Minnesota should consider in light of this analysis.

The list below includes the most critical trends (with duplications eliminated).

Critical Trends Identified in the Workshop


    • Increase in community college enrollments
    • Increasing shift away from campus-based higher education*
    • Increasing in minority populations
    • Tuition increasing faster than household incomes
    • Increase in non-traditional students
    • Libraries are becoming data banks
    • Declining quality of high school preparation
    • Increasing amount of time to obtain a "4 year" degree
    • Increased pressure for higher education to control costs*
    • Increasing University responsibility for safety/security
    • Reduction in K-12 mandates
    • Fewer high school grads (smaller family size)
    • Increasing demands for student privacy (e.g., dorm rooms)
    • Increasing faculty resistance to distance learning
    • Decreasing family support for education
    • Increase in gap between "haves" and "have nots"*
    • Consolidation of traditional management and oversight functions
    • Decrease in international students
    • Increased awareness of fitness and health
    • Increased xenophobia


    • "Explosion" in campus computing
    • Increased student access to on-line services
    • Increasing costs to develop computer networks
    • Colleges cannot guarantee a "level playing field" for computer use
    • Increasing costs to maintain computers
    • Greater student computer literacy than schools are ready to support
    • Increased awareness of need for computer system and information integrity
    • Increasing consumer demands for interactive networks
    • Increased use of floppy disc textbooks
    • Increased demand for technical training


    • Corporate downsizing
    • Lower wages for new graduates
    • Increased competition from corporate training functions
    • Maintenance of existing facilities rather than building new ones
    • Decline in available equipment dollars
    • Increasing employer requirements for international skills (languages)
    • Increasing needs for multiple degrees
    • Increased demands for job placement
    • Increased globalization*
    • Increase in tuition rates*


    • Increased demands for accountability
    • Demands for increased productivity
    • Increasing numbers of institutions guaranteeing four year graduations
    • Decrease in government spending for higher education
    • Continued pressure for equal rights for women
    • Decreased government support of higher education*

Trend Analysis

The first step in trend analysis is to select the most critical trends. Both groups were asked to identify their top trends. Those so selected are identified by an asterisk. The next step is to identify the implications of critical trends and derive action recommendations. Below is an example of this analysis for one trend, its implications, and recommendations as to what governmental and educational leaders in Minnesota can do:

Trend: There is an increasing shift away from campus-based higher education


    • There is a need for multi-media information technology training for faculty.
    • Increased funding will be needed for the associated technical infrastructure.
    • There is an increased awareness of a need for academic information security and integrity.
    • There is a demand from corporations and other entities for educational facilities.
    • Many buildings will become obsolete (dormitories, lecture halls).
    • There will continue to be an increase in dollars spent for off-campus
    • Learners will become increasingly isolated.
    • The number of "multi-institution" students will increase.
    • New student markets will be created.
    • There will be an increased ability to customize curricula to individual student needs.
    • There is a potential decrease in future alumni support and financial ties to higher education institutions.
    • There will be an impact on faculty tenure, promotion, and location.
    • There will be pressure to create new "campus life" opportunities
    • There will be a decrease in facilities and maintenance support dollars.


    • Invest in faculty development for information technology training.
    • Restructure existing educational budgets to support technology growth.
    • Develop systems and procedures to ensure academic information integrity and security.
    • Inventory facilities and develop standards for facility re-use and retrofit.
    • Develop systems for advising and supporting students based on the shift to technological distance learning.
    • Develop innovative ways of rewarding faculty.
    • Focus marketing strategies for distance learning.
    • Increase educational access for traditionally underserved populations.
    • Plan for technical [hardware] obsolescence.
    • Develop strategic plans for inter-collegiate development and collaboration.


Establishing a comprehensive environmental scanning system on a campus to inform planning requires a good deal of time from everyone involved in the process. Fortunately, we can take advantage of the information highway and can share resources via Horizon List and Horizon Home Page. Horizon List offers the opportunity to respond to draft articles focusing on emerging trends and potential events. Horizon Home Page has a futures planning database of abstracts describing signals of change in the macroenvironment that can affect education; please review this section and please add to it. You may subscribe to Horizon List by sending the following message to subscribe horizon <yourfirstname> <yourlastname>. You may view and contribute to Horizon Home Page by turning your browser to the following URL address:

To stimulate and focus discussion of the implications of emerging tends and potential events on your campus, recommend to the chair of your planning committee that she/he order a site license subscription to On the Horizon . View each issue of On the Horizon as a pump-primer to organizational planning. For example, the chair's cover letter to the first issue should urge planning committee members to consider how the content of particular items in the newsletter affect the institution and to write down their thoughts (or send them to the group via e-mail); their collective thoughts would be used to begin discussion at the next committee meeting.

Before the meeting, the chair could compose a questionnaire identifying those articles in On the Horizon that may affect either the organization as a whole or particular curricular programs. He/she should ask committee members to rank-order the most important ones, and follow this rank order for the discussion agenda.

As the committee becomes accustomed to this process, the chair should request members to send articles, notes, or commentary that they encounter in their reading and at conferences about potential developments that could affect the organization. They should use the structure of the newsletter: send information about signals of change in the STEEP (i.e., social, technological, economic, environmental, and political ) categories, particularly on the local and regional levels (On the Horizon tends to focus on the national and international levels). The reason for using this structure is that developments in one sector affect developments in other sectors (i.e., a war in the Middle East affects fuel prices everywhere); therefore, in order to anticipate change, we need to look for developments that may have direct or indirect effects on the organization.

Committee members should examine sources for change in relevant variables (e.g., immigration, price of computers, mood of voters). What change is already taking place? Is there a movement upward or downward? What are the projections? What are the emerging trends (i.e., what combinations of data points—past trends, events, precursors—suggest and support the early stages of a possible trend)? What external events, policies, or regulatory actions would affect or be affected by the projections? They should look for forecasts by experts, and append their own implications section to the emerging issues, critical trends, or potential developments when they send their information items.

The chair should summarize the articles and their implications in the cover letter when sending the next issue of On the Horizon, and include a questionnaire asking each committee member to rank the five most important items submitted by the committee or included in the newsletter.

The agenda for the planning meeting should include the top items. At the meeting, focused around these items, committee members should draw out the implications of the potential developments for ongoing organizational and program planning. They may want more information about a particular trend or potential event. In this case, enlist the aid of a research staffer or librarian (who should be on the planning committee anyway).

Regularly circulating information about potential developments and asking committee members to think of their implications reinforces a future-oriented posture in our colleagues. They will begin to read, hear, and talk about this information not only as something intellectually interesting but as information they can use in practical organizational planning.


The preconference workshop was conducted in a restricted time frame. It was, however, sufficient to give you experience in using several basic approaches to transform information into strategic intelligence for your institution. This experience, in conjunction with the references sited earlier, should help you establish and maintain an environmental scanning capability on your campus.

You have other resources available. One of the major reasons for publishing On the Horizon is to bring you and your colleagues the expertise and foresight of an exceptional and diverse editorial board. Our objective is to alert you to potential developments and emerging trends that may affect your organization so that you can plan for the future more effectively.

Horizon List and Horizon Home Page allow you to participate in and contribute to an on-going dialogue of signals of change in the external environment and their implications for the future of education. Please subscribe to Horizon List, browse Horizon Home Page, and enter into these important discussions with colleagues all over the world.


Morrison, J. L. (1992). Environmental scanning. In M. A. Whitely, J. D. Porter, & R. H. Fenske (Eds.), The primer for institutional research (pp. 86-89). Tallahassee: The Association for Institutional Research.

Morrison, J. L. & Mecca, T. V. (1989). Managing uncertainty. In J. C. Smart (Ed.), Handbook of theory and research in higher education: Vol 5 (pp. 351-382). New York: Agathon.

Morrison, J. L., Renfro, W. L., & Boucher, W. I. (1984). Futures research and the strategic planning process: Implications for higher education (ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 9). Washington, DC: Association for the Study of Higher Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 259 692)

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