ROBERT T. SUMICHRAST, Feature Editor,
Pamplin College of Business,
Academic Careers in the 21st Century: The Brave New World
Practically all graduate business students are trained, at least to a degree, in the elements of strategic planning. Fundamental to this is an understanding and appreciation of environmental scanning. We recognize the importance of managers anticipating trends and positioning their organizations in ways that can best take advantage of the opportunities that change brings and to be prepared to deal with new challenges. Should not this same practice have value for doctoral business students planning their careers in academe? Higher education is dynamic. Throughout the nation colleges are incorporating business ideas and buzzwords. Marketing, downsizing, restructuring, reducing unnecessary duplication, accountability, increased productivity and the establishment of standards are topics at almost any academic meeting or conference. Some feel that the current era will one day be seen as a major turning point in educational history.
Will the key success factors for faculty tomorrow be different from those of today? Are current doctoral programs in business adequately preparing students for their future? What new skills and expectations should graduates bring to the profession? The answers to these questions are not clear. Certainly higher education is going through a great deal of change and the pace of such change will likely quicken. Many of today's doctoral students in business began their studies when position vacancies far outnumbered graduates each year. Today the reverse is true. The decline has been caused in part by the declining popularity of business as an undergraduate major. Other changes have also been significant. The number of high school graduates has declined, the growth in non-traditional age students entering college has peaked, and many states are finding it difficult to adequately fund higher education given the many other demands on state resources. These changes have generally led to "belt tightening" responses on the part of many business schools. Future changes may be more fundamental and future adjustments more challenging. Anticipating the nature of such change will be critical for schools of business and for those seeking careers in this industry.
Mega Trends in Higher Education
An extensive review of the opinions and projections of college administrators and higher education scholars from across the nation identified almost two dozen strategic issues that colleges and universities must address as they enter the 21st century. These issues factor into five broad categories or "mega-trends." Many will look to schools of business for the leadership and requisite skill base needed to respond positively to these trends. Following are the likely trends that will shape the "brave new world" of academics in the early part of the 21st Century.
Emphasis on Accountability
The first major trend is fueled by numerous external stakeholder groups. Higher education has been criticized by the public due to the substantial increase in costs during a time of relatively low inflation and stable enrollment. There is a small but vocal group of critics who argue that cost is not the only issue, but that much of the teaching and research in higher education is irrelevant. Unfortunately, schools of business have increasingly been the target of these charges from some leaders in the business community. Legislators are demanding accountability. Accrediting agencies are changing the main focus of accreditation from resource availability and use to outcome based measures of institutional effectiveness.
Clearly, the need for accountability will grow. Schools of business must be accountable to students, their parents, future employers, legislators, administrators, and accrediting agencies. Schools must be accountable for being efficient. Ways must be developed to better use increasingly limited resources. More importantly, though, schools of business must be effective. More authentic assessment instruments and approaches must be developed that clearly show the long term value added by higher education in general and schools of business in particular. Accountability will also reach into the individual classroom. Professors in the future will increasingly be asked to: (1) define goals of instruction as measurable outcomes; (2) concentrate on the kinds of outcomes-critical thinking, problem solving, creativity-that will serve the future citizen in a changing world; and (3) construct student evaluation opportunities that call for an integrated response. Accountability is the issue that will not (and most feel should not) go away.
Primacy of Teaching-Learning
The second mega-trend is the call from numerous constituent groups for a re-emphasis on teaching and learning, especially at the undergraduate level. Research is expected to continue to be important, but to a great extent, the research's value will depend upon its relevance to the teaching-learning equation. Curriculums will likely show radical departures from the past. To justify their existence as servants of society, schools will come under pressure to be less theoretical and more practical in preparing students for careers. There will be more emphasis on ethics, science, technology, and languages. Technology will play a greater part in the classroom, and the traditional lecture will likely be de-emphasized. Assignments are likely to become more experiential based. Internships and cooperative programs are likely to increase. Another field experience that is projected to gain in popularity is the directed service learning experience. Here students work in or do assignments in conjunction with community service organizations. It has been reported that such assignments increase intrinsic motivation and help students grapple with issues of ethics, values, and social responsibility in a much more realistic way than via the traditional classroom lecture.
Alumni surveys report that the concrete content of courses has proven to be less important to them than what they gained in independent thinking and in being able to work cooperatively with others. The specific content of many courses may become less important than learning how to move with new information as the future presents itself. Professors will be challenged to find creative ways to convey information and to portray core concepts in terms that are closely tied to real-world examples. The professors of tomorrow must learn a new model. They must shift from being the "Sage on the Stage" and become proficient and comfortable in the new role as "Guide on the Side."
Growth in Alliances
Just as business alliances have become commonplace in the 90s, so will such partnerships become common in higher education in the future. More intercollege cooperation is expected. This will range from sharing facilities and courses to joint degree programs drawing on the core strengths of different institutions.
Business schools and business faculty are even more likely to see the impact of alliances with businesses and trade groups. Corporations and universities are frequently teaming up to offer specialized training. Employers nationwide spend $60 billion a year for formal employee training, a figure that nearly matches that spent by colleges and universities at the beginning of the l980s. Schools of business will have to modify ideas about how, when and where to teach. The campus may become the place where instruction is designed rather than where it is delivered. Many classrooms will dissolve, leaving students to study through work laboratories, teleconferences, community tutoring, hot lines, and computer terminals at home.
Colleges and universities will also likely become more involved in credentialing alliances with business groups. These alliances will involve creating certificate programs that are much shorter and more highly focused than traditional degree programs. The institutions will design the programs and certify that participants have mastered certain skills, regardless of how or where the mastery was achieved. Business faculty will be challenged to stress application over theory and to readily switch from teaching traditionally aged undergraduate students with little or no experience, to teaching highly experienced adults, some with strong educational backgrounds, but many with little formal education.
The last form of alliance that the professor of tomorrow may see more frequently is the alliance between the teaching faculty and a teacher union. Only approximately ten percent of professional employees of colleges and universities are presently covered by union contracts. Unions are mushrooming, however, among community college faculty, the most rapidly expanding sector of higher education. As teachers in elementary and secondary schools and community colleges gain pay and bargaining power, and as increased financial pressure is applied to university faculty, there is a belief that an increase in unionization is inevitable.
Growing Use of Technology in Classroom
Possibly the most readily apparent trend in education is the availability of technology for teaching/learning, research, and service. In the past, the library with its vast holdings symbolized the information core of a university. Today information consists of TV cables, satellite and telephone hook-ups, the computer disc, and the Internet. No longer must the student come to the information; now the information can come directly to the student, when and where needed.
Technology can be expected to impact the classroom in at least three ways. First, technology can expand pedagogical opportunities. As an example, professors are now able to easily incorporate sound and visual stimuli into their lectures. Students are also able to experience interactive learning with the benefit of its immediate feedback. Second, technology offers the opportunity to extend educational opportunities far beyond the walls of the institution. Digital two-way compressed video technology now allows students and instructors to see, hear, and interact with each other while separated by great distance. While distance learning initiatives by colleges and universities have become popular, they have historically been delivered in a traditional way, while untraditional in time and place. Digital technology, coupled with the Internet, holds the promise of vastly changing the very nature of the institution and the role of the faculty in designing and delivering instruction. Enhanced by technology, much of education in the future may involve some distance learning component. The third way in which technology may impact the classroom is in its potential for improving faculty teaching productivity. Routine lectures may be perfected and taped, freeing faculty to interact with students in more of a laboratory environment. Live lectures or case presentations may be broadcast to multiple classrooms, where assistants may help guide students, facilitate discussion, and handle administrative detail. Interaction between students and faculty can also be facilitated via the Internet. Productivity and value can also be enhanced when universities use technology to share outstanding professors or to jointly offer courses where individually, enrollment would be too low to be economically viable.
Technology can also be expected to impact universities and faculty outside the classroom. Research is facilitated and joint projects are much easier to arrange and operate. Likewise, service opportunities are enhanced. While technology is extremely expensive, it holds the promise of being cost effective and may ultimately help stabilize the cost of higher education. Technology may also provide more competition. Institutions can easily target markets beyond their typical service area. In addition, there may be a new development, the creation of "virtual universities," consisting of organizations that agree to cooperate in offering highly specialized courses, certificates, and even degrees, while bypassing what they see as unresponsive institutions of higher education.
Appreciation of Diversity
The last mega-trend identified is the increasing emphasis on diversity. Universities have historically prided themselves on welcoming diverse opinions, beliefs, and approaches. In spite of this, the predominantly white, male administrators and tenure-granting bodies of many colleges and universities have resisted reform. This is beginning to change.
Diversity is not just more women and minorities, but older students, part-time students, international students, and students with special circumstances or needs. The move to diversify the student body and faculty reflects the growing diversity of the nation. As the world becomes smaller and international trade grows in importance, the degree to which universities have successfully diversified will impact their ability to help students understand and interact with the world-at- large. In many ways, the trend toward diversification, multicultural education, wider access to education, and adult and public issues education is not an attempt to bring about social change as much as it is an attempt to educate. And in no field is the need to understand others, to appreciate and build on differences, to negotiate, and to adapt to change greater than it is in the field of business. Business school faculty will be challenged to find innovative ways to draw strength from the diversity of the university and channel this into better student understanding of and ability to function in an increasingly complex world.