Saturday 1 July 2017

Universities: Disruption Is Coming

by Jim Clifton

Do we need universities anymore? What if they ran out of customers?

Google announced it is hiring employees without college degrees, and Ernst & Young made a similar decision in the U.K. last fall. Both organizations see less value in a traditional college degree.

Are two of the most admired companies in the world wrong -- or ahead of their time?

The value of universities could be hitting a wall as fast as the value of libraries, newspapers and brick-and-mortar retail stores. Our need for learning and filling our brains with exactly the right information at just the right time is changing faster than American universities are.

Think about it: Which is more indispensable to you in your job -- your university education or the university you have in your pocket, your smartphone?

American universities need to change. The current $1.2 trillion in student loan debt is crushing graduates. Total student loan balances have tripled since 2003 and are the second-largest category of borrowing after mortgages. If major employers like Google and Ernst & Young see less need for a college degree, and if other big companies follow suit, then students are paying an exorbitant price for a product of decreasing value.

With our recent joint launch of a daily poll on higher education, Gallup and USA Funds are helping university leaders lead the change. Each day, 350 days a year, Gallup will conduct nationally representative interviews with approximately 500 U.S. adults about their higher education interests, experiences and outcomes. We will provide the first ever "voice of the customer" on the subject of higher education.

As William D. Hansen, USA Funds president and CEO, puts it, "This ongoing survey will allow us to track the progress toward and effectively identify strategies that promote what we call 'completion with a purpose' -- helping more students complete college prepared to launch rewarding careers."

Gallup's founder, the late Dr. George Gallup, once famously said, "If democracy is supposed to be based on the will of the people, someone should find out what that will is." His point was that when leaders are wrong about what the people want, and then use that wrong information to make decisions, things get worse. It's a point that applies to students and their education as much as it applies to any other part of our society.

The purpose of the new Gallup-USA Funds partnership is to report the will of the people on the subject of higher education. Now leaders of American education can be right instead of wrong about policies, strategies, premises and practices as colleges and universities go through massive transformational change.

Change is coming one way or another. Universities have to decide whether they want to lead the change or become the next victims of disruption.

Jim Clifton is Chairman and CEO at Gallup.

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