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The Challenge to Deep Change
A Brief Cultural History of Higher Education
by Sanford Shugart
Given the extraordinary demands on higher education to adopt strategies that deliver better results with fewer resources and the common resistance of our institutions to strategic change, leaders and planners would do well to actively engage in processes of cultural change.
Colleges and universities are famously resistant to change. This state of affairs is not always a bad thing, but it certainly poses real challenges to leaders and planners who seek to shape the collective effort of the institution and its many constituents toward new and better outcomes that are increasingly defined from outside the academy. Higher education is being asked to achieve more with less, to serve a broader and more challenged student population with fewer resources, and to achieve dramatically improved outcomes: higher completion rates, more competent graduates in areas of high demand such as the STEM disciplines, reductions in cost and student debt, more diversity in the professions, and greater impact on the intergenerational pattern of poverty. These are not trivial outcomes to achieve and will require significant changes in the institutions themselves. There are many reasons for the conserving nature of these institutions, including the fact that colleges have always been something of a loose confederation of faculty, staff, and students organized around purposes that are not always aligned. We call them “refractory” because of the confluence of competing values and priorities that creates a sort of dynamic tension (sometimes a balance of terror) that works against rapid and strategic change. Other reasons include the underlying business models that drive institutional behavior, accreditation policies and traditions that confine institutional practice and innovation, politicization of institutional missions by trustees and others, and leadership that comes almost exclusively from within the academy with little training for challenges such as large-scale organizational change. Nevertheless, change is in the air and much in conversation from the national capital to the major foundation boardrooms to ordinary trustee meetings in towns no one has heard of. Planners are being asked to facilitate the development of strategies that will “move the needle” on all of these outcomes. Center stage, at the moment, is Clayton Christensen’s notion of “disruptive innovation” in higher education (Christensen et al. 2011). Massive online open courses (MOOCs), open source content, badges and other competency-based credentials, and models such as the Khan Academy, Coursera, EdX, and Western Governors University are raising the possibility that the outcomes we seek as a society might be attainable best or only from outside the academy, with massive consequences for traditional institutions and their viability in the coming quarter century.
our best strategies aren’t likely to achieve the results we seek. improvements in outcomes without thoroughly proving their unattainability. even quantum. that the traditional college experience. and students to achieve meaningful outcomes at much higher levels. systems. but this is where the resistance to change is most often felt for one very important and often overlooked reason: culture trumps strategy. Further. So. in which “sustaining innovation” also has its place in organizational evolution and development. and reformation of existing institutions: • Can dramatic improvements in the outcomes we seek from higher education be achieved by and within the institutions in which we have so much already invested? How can these institutions best accommodate. move our colleges and universities toward large-scale innovations that improve results? • • These questions may sound like matters of strategy. every time. at least.” as though other approaches to innovation were only able to produce incremental. given both the incalculably huge investment our society already has in institutions of higher education and the scale at which these institutions operate. may be as marginalized as the video stores we used to see on every corner not so very long ago. and therefore insignificant. There is. in the face of hundreds of years of a conserving institutional culture. however. the culture of the organization will determine the limits and possibilities of our strategies. the dialog is associating “disruptive change” with the notion of “meaningful” or “large-scale change. habits. to the questions above we must add: • How can the cultures of our colleges and universities be intentionally changed to focus the collective energy and talent of faculty. Here then are questions for those of us charged with the leadership. and ways of thinking in the organization. most importantly. the benefits of disruptive innovation to their missions and outcomes without being marginalized? And. although the predominant outcome of these innovations to date has been to expand the market. Without deep culture change. not to displace the traditional institutions. how can we. appropriate. or better. already reduced to less than 20 percent of the American undergraduate population. underlying business models. Increasingly. value propositions. an undercurrent in these discussions that needs to be examined. The changes we seek are so pervasive that they will require changes to the “deep architecture” of institutions—the myriad processes.Planning for Higher Education V41N2 | Shugart Article | 2 THE PROBLEM OF CHANGE These conversations are worth engaging in with eyes wide open to the possibility. planning. The culture of the organization will determine the limits and possibilities of our strategies. it seems irresponsible to dismiss the possibility of significant. This is certainly not the direct meaning of Christensen’s work. change. That is to say. even with constrained resources and a broader and sometimes more challenged student population? . staff.
• We must create a new culture in the midst of the existing institution. nourishing it into a position of profound influence over the deep architecture of the college where everything must change. . but to do so requires several important conditions: • We must take a brutally honest look at the existing culture to gain a deep understanding of its origins and underpinnings as well as its expressions in the organization. The earliest universities (the word simply means guild or association) founded in Bologna. and one out of two ain’t bad. To ignore the influence of history on our work almost guarantees failure in our efforts to change culture and the systems it supports. And they took a vow of chastity. a little later. the place of the college in the larger educational ecosystem. which they kept. the eldest sons of wealthy families could be sent to a far-away place made of stone and covered with ivy. They took a vow of poverty. To ignore the influence of history on our work almost guarantees failure in our efforts to change culture and the systems it supports. the alignment of resources toward collective goals rather than personal and institutional self-interest. ORIGINS: THE MONASTIC MODEL Higher education as we know it has its origins in western Europe in the 12th century. A CULTURAL HISTORY OF HIGHER EDUCATION IN THE WEST The deep culture and much of the deep architecture of our colleges and universities has been formed over nearly a thousand years of historical development. They would live in a tiny cell and spend their days sitting at the feet of priestly teachers (complete with priestly authority and robes) and eventually be inducted into a similar priesthood if they were successful. The reader will forgive the broad brushstrokes in the interest of brevity.Planning for Higher Education V41N2 | Shugart Article | 3 • What will characterize the new. coalescing the diverse interests of our constituents toward common goals. • We must have the courage to engage broadly with stakeholders in conversations about the deep culture of the organization and have the will to change the conversation toward a new culture. just like those of other organizations. emerging cultures of higher learning. I propose to present an excruciatingly abbreviated cultural history of higher education to illustrate just how important this perspective is to engaging in cultural change. shared strategies. Paris. the cultivation of powerful pedagogies across disciplines. and the development of a discipline of innovation that enables the college to leverage breakthroughs for authentically better outcomes? Cultures of colleges. and collective action precisely in the areas that have been the killing fields of new strategy in the past: the shape and purposes of the curriculum. and. Oxford represented a break from the cathedral schools and monasteries of the late middle ages. Here. Salerno. but also drew very heavily on them for their purposes and culture. can be intentionally shaped and changed.
” and those completing the second were called “masters. In Europe it took form as the German polytechnic (and to some extent the universities rooted in the Scottish enlightenment). the organization of academic departments. These same trappings are just as prevalent even in very modern institutions. nonprofit universities often underwritten by captains of industry (Carnegie-Mellon. MIT. Students were apprentice researchers and were expected to develop their own specialties. the issues of town and gown.Planning for Higher Education V41N2 | Shugart Article | 4 The purpose of the institution was the preservation and transmission of culture. The polytechnic model took as its purpose the development of new knowledge and new technologies and their practical application to industry. It is reflected in the architecture of the institutions—gothic towers reminiscent of the cathedral and classical elements such as colonnades and domes modeled after the Pantheon in Rome. and not only in ancient institutions covered with ivy. such as community and technical colleges. industry sponsorship of universities and their research agendas. The faculty role was defined around a new kind of scholarship best described as research. warfare. The balkanization of the curriculum.” suitable to teach others in a similar institution. Stanford) and land-grant institutions founded after the passage of the Morrill Act in 1862. the dominance of career. and other state priorities. The model is also reflected in the deep architecture of the university or college. The shapes of academic terms. A single master taught the entire curriculum. At that time a new model of higher education began to emerge. While it waxed and waned in influence. the expectation for students to fully apprentice themselves and eschew distractions such as employment. especially as a powerful lever on the Reformation and Enlightenment. The point is that much of our academic culture has ancient roots—and the older the roots. In the United States. the authority of the professoriate. the rituals and academic rites. the university research laboratory. it changed little in its essentials until the late 18th and early 19th centuries. the static nature of the general education curriculum—all of this and more can be traced to the monastic model. eventually expressed in majors. the roles of professors.) Faculty in the polytechnic model began to specialize. Completers of the first component were deemed “bachelors. with most of the early innovation coming through organizations outside the academy such as the Royal Society. where innovation was particularly focused on agriculture and related industries and later on the challenges of industrial production. teaching within their disciplines in a curriculum that was assembled across the disciplines. remains soundly in practice at most of the older elite institutions in Europe and America. EMERGENCE OF THE MODERN UNIVERSITY: THE POLYTECHNIC The monastic model thrived and spread for hundreds of years throughout Europe and the Americas.and technically oriented majors. the . the model is best exemplified by two kinds of institutions: private. the deeper they are likely to go. though a thousand years old. a combination of classical and theological education embodied in the trivium and later augmented by the quadrivium. Oxford and Cambridge fairly limped into the new age of science and industry with the founding of the Clarendon and Cavendish laboratories in 1870 and 1872. Charles Eliot. (The great English universities came rather late to this model. building on an elective curriculum model first proposed by Thomas Jefferson and later championed by the long-term (1869–1909) president of Harvard University. Attempts to shape the culture of a college or university must account for this if they are to be at all successful. Does this sound familiar? The monastic model.
and tuition and living expenses for the relatively small number who might want to attend college or a technical education program. and the adoption of lecture within discipline specialty as a primary pedagogy all have their origins in the polytechnic model. Some 18 years and 15 minutes after the millions of GIs returned.Planning for Higher Education V41N2 | Shugart Article | 5 marginalization of theological and eventually humanistic studies in the economy of institutions. America had a nearly unique experience in the mid-20th century driven by one simple fact: our boys (and girls) came home. Now the systems really were completely overwhelmed by both demand and a new cultural development—the “massification” of higher education. up to a year of unemployment benefits. . The social upheaval caused by this situation was extraordinary. decimating for the second time in the century a generation of Europe’s youth. send me better components. There were some 50 million casualties in the war. To meet the challenge. Major components of the law provided for expanded health care. the core mission is scale—to enroll and serve as large a student population as possible at the lowest cost possible. more than 2. In response. making higher education available to the masses. and Congress responded by passing what we know as the GI Bill (The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944). inexpensive. In the industrial model. the next powerful development in higher education was both a direct and an indirect result of the post-World War II era. women’s colleges became co-educational. American policy makers and institutions turned to the most successful model for addressing mass anything— mass production or manufacturing—to create the industrial model of higher education. commuter. Those who make it through the process and graduate are “products. In the end. Still struggling with this adjustment. The United States experienced some 300. etc.” And the American model of manufacturing at midcentury was a high-scrap model.2 million veterans took advantage of the educational benefits. SCALE AND PRODUCTIVITY: THE POST-WAR INDUSTRIAL MODEL In the United States. No other Western nation had considered. later known as the Truman Commission. and our 15 million veterans returned to an economy in the midst of transition from wartime to peacetime production. much less attempted. hundreds of institutions were built and expanded around this model. This challenge was genuinely unprecedented. a presidential commission. although it took one more post-war development to launch the rapid expansion of this new system. Those on the assembly line find it easy to associate quality with the quality of the raw material or the components they are assembling into a product—if you want better results. the first wave of the baby boom arrived at the doors of America’s colleges and universities. low-interest home loans. laying the foundations for the modern community college. We all know the model well: faculty are something like assembly-line workers. recommended the creation of a whole new system of higher education by combining and expanding the liberal arts junior college pioneered earlier in the century with the industrial education centers created during the war to develop a wartime workforce. This new system would be open door. each performing a unique and specific task as the students—read “raw material”—move through the process stepwise. colleges stretched themselves in massive building campaigns for both instructional and residential facilities. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s. and convenient.” Those who don’t are “scrap. many colleges and universities undertook dramatic changes of scale and mission: teachers’ colleges became regional public universities. creating unprecedented and unexpected demand for higher education and nearly overwhelming the capacity of colleges and universities.000 casualties.
placing. Most important of all. and ratios of part-time to full-time instruction. selling products the consumer never knew she needed. attempts to align incentives to productivity. carefully orchestrated channels to move the consumer to action. making FTEs (full-time equivalent students) the coin of the realm. the industrial model was built on a business model that funded enrollments. And the college is selling them a lifestyle. most especially. a new kind of marketing. Enrollment growth. More recently. class size. found an important solution: the tools of postmodern consumer capitalism. As the “baby bust. Now in place of sheer growth are new. Many thought that significant numbers of colleges might have to close. and in its early stages it was liberally funded as part of a national policy to compete with the Russians in the immediate post-Sputnik era through the passage of the National Defense Education Act. This kind of marketing is remarkably powerful. However. With high school graduates declining in real numbers. And all the tools of industrial productivity are being brought to bear on the challenge: end-to-end process design. the pattern of stable enrollment growth in nearly every kind of college was eroding. faculty unions. students are consumers.” It works. but essentially to grow its brand. classifying. using deep intelligence on the potential market to customize messaging delivered through multiple. reached college age in the early 1980s. the enormous demand for enrollment of traditional college students began to wane. measuring. HIGHER EDUCATION IN THE MARKETPLACE: THE RETAIL MODEL Even as the industrial model was producing more and larger colleges and universities throughout the country. New marketing. In the college and university world. Modern marketing was about brand differentiation. admitting. plays a role. This model is especially evident in the nation’s community colleges and large state universities. and myriad systems of processing. these colleges. cheap hourly labor (adjuncts). but without additional funding. many colleges . the forces that created it were shifting. under stress from declining enrollments and revenue. of course. this kind of marketing is known as “enrollment management. obsession with enrollment. became the most important way to assure the future of the institution and for many the last word on institutional health. In the retail model. new technologies that have guaranteed increased productivity in nearly every other industry. higher expectations for productivity—to serve more students with fewer resources and to produce more products at a lower unit cost.Planning for Higher Education V41N2 | Shugart Article | 6 Other legacies of the industrial model include very large lecture sections (highly productive). Because the value proposition is less about learning than lifestyle. but there are many deeper cultural expressions of the retail model. In this model. and. while the elites and would-be elites look to national rankings they all agree are inadequate but never fail to quote when they are favorable. as state revenues have dried up. industrial models of quality management. the mission of the college is its own success. both while in college and beyond. (A community college may measure market share. national and state goals for numbers of graduates produced by 2020. and otherwise depersonalizing students as units of consumption of institutional resources on their way (half of them) to becoming products.” the trough in population between the baby boom and the echo baby boom. then. At greatest risk were colleges dependent on a traditional student population with enough means to pay a fairly high tuition for an institution with a modest value proposition—the lesser-known independent colleges. defined a bit differently from place to place. postmodern marketing is about lifestyle. customers. the demands on this system have been renewed at yet higher levels.) Growing the brand can be done in a variety of ways.
every college and university in the United States has some of these deep traditions and cultures at work in varying proportions.Planning for Higher Education V41N2 | Shugart Article | 7 have developed remarkably comfortable student housing options (very different from the cells of the monastic model and the warehouses of the industrial model) and extraordinary facilities and programs for entertainment. Of course. successfully creating higher brand value—and margins. the mission is institutional success and the primary values are brand enhancement. the proposition was extended to say “excellence = exclusivity = expensiveness. one of the stranger developments of the last two decades. and student consumerism. and profitability. Again. In the retail model. curriculum. Perhaps a less obvious component of the retail model is the role of pricing. just as one finds industrial habits in the most expensive and elite universities. unchallenged assumptions. market share. massive financial aid system that has intrusive impact on instruction. that fund extraordinary capital expansion. And what are faculty? Customer relationship managers? Lifestyle consultants? From the retail model we have inherited marketing and enrollment management. and student performance. Many colleges discovered and have successfully marketed a value proposition that says “excellence = exclusivity. Complicating the analysis is the fact that no single culture dwells alone in any institution. usually unconsciously. major college athletics also plays an enormous role in branding the 100-plus NCAA Division I colleges and universities. a complex. They mix and mingle in our institutions in ways that are generally unexamined because they are expressed in the deep architecture of tradition. a similar price inflation in the for-profits. caricatures in fact. ritual. But more recently. . stock prices have been associated with institutions that are heavily underwritten by taxpayers.” Exclusivity is powerfully connected to brand on the basis of admissions standards. CONFLUENCE OF CULTURES These summaries. expressed in growing conflict and a spirit of disrespect between students and faculty. and habit. a pattern of significant annual price increases. the retail model is fully realized in high tuitions supported by federal financial aid systems and a primary value proposition of convenience to the consumer now and a future lifestyle once the credential is earned. intense internal competition for revenue and investment among the departments of many colleges and the campuses of multicampus systems. but to fund the bottom line. students (and sometimes their parents) are consumers. almost to the exclusion of anything else for CEOs (who could have imagined a $2 billion capital campaign a generation ago?). In the for-profit sector. euphemistically called “wellness centers. of the sources of institutional culture can help to make clear why we do things the way we do. the integration of institutional development and fund-raising into the daily responsibilities of instructional leaders.” Thus many institutions intentionally reduced enrollment while aggressively increasing price. procedures. especially in the more elite institutions. One can find “a little ivy” on the walls of almost any college no matter how far it is removed from the ranks of the elite.” Their marketing materials and their undergraduate programs may emphasize a robust extracurricular experience. For the first time in history.
the data that point to low completion rates. or fiat. and what we believe about those who want to shape that world—our day-to-day work world. much to the chagrin of governors. CHANGING INSTITUTIONAL CULTURE Culture-changing leadership takes seriously the deep roots of our behavior and attitudes: what we believe about our students. and undermining our attempts at change. many of them inherited from outside the college itself from traditions that transcend an individual institution. there are deep conversations occurring all the time in our organizations. As expressions of culture. it turns out. but . low persistence rates. we must deal not only with policy. We have to change the conversation. Hope finds evidence of genuine success in learning and progression among students and asks. not to mention institutional leaders. Despair gathers the conversation around our most disappointing evidence. And the job of leadership is to summon those who can and will to these conversations. to achieve significant results in the outcomes and experiences of colleges and universities. . they are remarkability resilient and much less likely to be changed by policy. Clearly. funding mechanisms. “What would it take to get these kinds of results with most of our students?” . Merely adopting a new strategy or aligning incentives doesn’t touch these beliefs. deep and meaningful conversation. but only through that most human of activities. and students churning at the front door. In fact. This type of conversation requires a kind of “cocktail” of evidence and premise that is three parts hope and one part despair. not just the business. . and an intentional effort at making a new culture to displace the old. for example. shaping not only the obvious designs and decisions we can observe and document from our policy-making offices but also the millions of small. practices. In a college deeply marked by the industrial model. These beliefs are subject to change. but most serve to affirm people in their already-held views and the advocacy for these views that marks the politicized organization. lay boards. Culture is pervasive. but also with culture. acknowledging that enrollment has dominated our decision making at the expense of learning can be a first step toward opening the conversation to the possibility of change. unobserved decisions. incentives.Planning for Higher Education V41N2 | Shugart Article | 8 What is important to note is that these are expressions of the deep culture of the institution. a different theory of change. The reason for this is in the nature of organizational culture. what we believe about our place and our institution’s place in the world. We begin by celebrating all that is good in our shared work while admitting the dysfunctional elements that undermine our results. and habits— matters. strengthening their defense mechanisms. poor learning. This raises a central question: Can culture be changed? The answer is a resounding “yes. and legislatures. The beginning of real cultural change is found in what a friend of mine calls “courageous conversations. and an intentional effort at making a new culture to displace the old. Cultural change requires a different kind of leadership. ” The “but” is that this kind of change requires a different kind of leadership. what we believe about our calling and work. much closer to the real experience of students and professors than our reform agendas. most of the typical leadership initiatives are interpreted by the various institutional actors through the lens of these beliefs. a different theory of change. often confirming their existing working theories. To be sure.” those that touch the heart. . like a community college.
to begin producing the ultimate change we seek by creating proximate examples of the new theory. Just as essential. and habits of the institution toward renewed ends.Planning for Higher Education V41N2 | Shugart Article | 9 In different institutions with a different blend of the cultures described above. new approaches to pedagogy that promise to deliver more effective learning.” From this new design principle. MAKING THE NEW CULTURE It is axiomatic that culture doesn’t change through critique alone. did others begin to trust and follow. the new designs aren’t built on the old advocacy of received culture. make budgets. one culture challenging another and slowly growing in prevalence until it has become the dominant culture of the organization. The redesign can begin almost anywhere—what if we changed our pedagogy. we found countless ways in which the value of enrollment was expressed over learning in the mundane methods we used to manage enrollment. a little despair. and a lot of hope. And the new culture is made. their practice. perhaps more so in the early stages. the conversation will proceed from somewhat different questions. At Valencia. and development of faculty based on learning-centered values and practices. the culture changed in ways that run deeper than these. the way we treat students. procedures. What the faculty and staff believe about their students. the college leveraged an enormous number of changes in systems. recent winner of the inaugural Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. More importantly. systems. and their mission has changed in ways that affect what students experience. just as the old culture was made. it is time to act. Culture changes by displacement. by creating new artifacts that embody the new theory. leading to impressive learning gains and gaining national attention. and strategy. Still. when others in the institution saw that leaders were willing to “fold four jacks” in search of the new model. This is exactly how the reforms began at Valencia College. and new models of engagement with our students that value their personal educational journeys and seek to give intelligent and timely support for them. the way we treat scholars? However. small decisions that overvalue enrollment and undervalue learning are important claxon calls in the culture and require immediate and thoughtful correction. this included a new way of measuring our effort based on student learning and success rather than enrollment. The new theory often emerges as a major design principle. When courageous conversations have set the stage for change and a new working theory is emerging. . induction. Campus conversations and roundtables led from deep within the college gave rise to a new idea: that the culture of the college might be intentionally reshaped away from the industrial model of productivity toward a new model that was “learning centered. and allocate every kind of resource. freeing them from the illusion that things have to be this way and others just don’t get it and redirecting them toward a new theory of work. the way we staff our work. years later. but on a new idea and new working theory born out of deep conversations nourished by evidence. our curriculum. our processes of student connection and induction. develop staffing plans. are changes that the existing leadership can make that deal with the sacred cows of the old model—like putting enrollment at risk in favor of learning-centered practices. In the case of a college like Valencia. Only when these began to change. but will still serve to disillusion and redirect those who join it. a new “big idea” around which to redesign the processes. new models of hiring.
” The emerging culture is expressed and reinforced through stories—the ongoing narrative of the institution that makes clear over time what we value. “The universe isn’t made of atoms. What will we design next? . But I suspect that many who advocate for dramatic change leveraged by these tools are overlooking both the power of culture and the power of thoughtful. the new cultural model. Perhaps Christensen is right and the new disruptive tools will forever change the existing institutions or marginalize them. it’s made of stories. The old architecture stands adjacent to the new. and what we are trying to design and build together. THE NEW MODEL So what will the emerging culture of higher education be? There are many competing narratives—higher education unshackled from the self-interest of institutions and their interest groups by technology. It’s possible. higher education more tightly coupled to the interests of state and economy—or liberated from the narrow interests of state and economy. Our colleges and universities have been through dramatic cultural changes before and somehow accommodated them in an odd syncretic blend.Planning for Higher Education V41N2 | Shugart Article | 10 Finally. what we seek. Culture-changing leadership will attend to that narrative through fierce integrity in every decision. I prefer to entertain the hypothesis that new technologies will expand the reach of higher education through all kinds of institutional arrangements. No one can tell at the moment what the emerging narrative. as a poet friend has said. informed leadership to shape culture. just as it does on our campuses. higher education driven by demand and under the control of the learner. may be. higher education liberated by the market. new and old.
leadership. Florida. student learning. AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY Sanford “Sandy” Shugart serves as the fourth president of Valencia College in greater Orlando. DC: Center for American Progress. and completion. Horn. and L. Valencia is the inaugural recipient of the Aspen Award for Community College Excellence from the Aspen Institute and the Leah Meyer Austin Award from Achieving the Dream for results achieved in improving student learning.. B. Soares. Washington. M. Disrupting College: How Disruptive Innovation Can Deliver Quality and Affordability to Postsecondary Education. and the history and culture of higher education. C. . He is widely known as a speaker and author on institutional transformation. M. L. Caldera.Planning for Higher Education V41N2 | Shugart Article | 11 REFERENCE Christensen. success. 2011.
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