Critical Trends and Events Affecting the Future of Texas Higher Education
James L. Morrison, Workshop Facilitator
Proceedings of the 1995 TAIR Preconference Workshop on Environmental Scanning
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, college and university leaders must be able to anticipate new developments on their organizations and curricular programs.
Offices of institutional research have traditionally obtained and analyzed data for organizational planning, focusing on internal performance indicators/trends. How prepared are institutional research offices to handle the requirements of external analysis?
The objective of TAIR's 1995 preconference workshop on environmental scanning was to assist IR officers 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 preconference workshop on environmental scanning. 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 community college 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 first exercise was to identify critical trends that defined the context within which Texas higher education functions. Participants were formed into three groups; each group had 25 minutes to identify critical trends, then 5 minutes to select the five most critical ones. The preliminary list included the following:
This was a "first cut" at trend identification, and allowed me to make several points. First, it is important to break trends into basic elements in order to use them for data collection. For example, "changing population demographics" can be broken down into ethnic identification (Hispanic, black, Asian), gender, and median age, or some combination of the above. Such breakdowns facilitate data collection.
However, participants were encouraged not to initially focus on the specific wording of trends when conducting a trend identification exercise. Rather, the intent is to capture the thinking of senior leaders on campus; cleanup of the language can come later.
Events are unambiguous and confirmable; when they occur, the future is different. Event identification and analysis is critical in anticipatory organizational planning. The event exercise focused on the following tasks:
Event Analysis: Identification of Most Critical Events and Their Signals
The most critical events and their signals are specified below:
A major point of this exercise is to focus attention of potential events that could affect the future of our organization. Therefore, the event statements need to be specific (i.e., "Pell grants eliminated," or "Pell grants reduced 50%") as opposed to "Reduction in student aid." "Fiber optic linkages available to everybody" is a bit unclear. Is "everybody" all faculty? Faculty, staff and students? All businesses? All homes?
One reason for being specific is that by making event statements concise, we can use them productively in estimating their probability and their impact. This was the focus of the probability/impact exercise, described below.<.p>
Each group selected one event. Group members first independently estimated the probability of the event occurring within the planning time frame (typically 3, 5, or 10 years) and, if it did occur, its degree of positive an its degree of negative impact on Texas higher education. The task was then as a group to get the reasoning out on the table for disparate forecasts. In essence, the group facilitator asked these questions: what is the reasoning behind a vote that the event is not likely to occur? What is the reasoning behind a vote that the event is highly likely? What is the reasoning behind the vote that the event, if it occurred, would be highly damaging to Texas higher education; what is the reasoning behind the vote that if the event occurred, it would strengthen Texas higher education?
What follows is the reasoning behind the probably and impacts of three events, followed by a recommendation to a hypothetical task force established by the governor on the future of Texas Higher Education.
1. Statewide Internet access by 75% of Texas colleges and universities within 5 yrs.
2. Complete elimination of Pell grants
3. 50% of college and university students in Texas are non-resident, utilizing distance education [Note: Distance education is electronic; students and teachers are not at the same location; interaction is in real time]
Impact Network Analysis
1. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board disbanded
a. Consolidate Texas Education Agency and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
2. Performance-based funding for all institutions
First order impacts
a. Keep same funding formula, not performance based
3. 50% reduction in student loan funds
a. Increase state level student loan funding
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 (for example, these proceedings will be inserted on the list for discussion when I get home). 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 firstname.lastname@example.org: subscribe horizon (yourfirstname) (yourlastname). You may view and contribute to Horizon Home Page by turning your browser to the following URL address: http://sunsite.unc.edu/horizon.
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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