Secretary Spellings' Commission on the Future of Higher Education recently released its third-draft report (08/03/2006). Charles Miller, Commission Chair, also sent a letter to his fellow commissioners to comment on the context in which a final report will soon be issued after only one more meeting of the Commission. From my perspective, Mr. Miller and his Commission colleagues are on the right track, and the current draft is likely to transition to the final report without major surgery -- in spite of the almost polar differences of opinion among some major higher education groups, such as the pro perspective of AASCU and con perspective of NAICU.
This blog is about:
- the need for higher education to improve and account for its performance,
- the necessary (but not sufficient) role of IT in any systemic attempt to improve and account for performance, and
- the IT-enabled learning and service process redesign strategies that have proven sufficient to the improvement task on a limited scale and that are scalable to a systemic level.
It is the need to contain or reduce unit costs -- to control costs and increase productivity in the language of the Commission -- that makes IT a necessary tool of the higher ed reformation envisioned by the Commission. Chairman Miller's letter speaks indirectly to this point by suggesting the higher ed community must "be willing and able to discuss the possibility of disruptive outcomes." Indeed, disruption in the interest of improved learning and service outcomes, increased flexibility for the student, and improved unit (per-student-FTE) cost structures is the goal of IT-enabled service process redesign in higher education. Only after a significant dose of such disruptions does it make sense to apply the principles of continuous quality improvement.
The current draft recommends that institutions "harness the power of information technology by sharing education resources among institutions, and use distance education to meet the educational needs of rural students, adult learners and enhance workforce development." Yes, but there's an even broader and deeper role for information technology implied in a current draft recommendation addressing the affordability of access and noting the need for incentives "to improve the measurement and management of costs and institutional productivity." This idea is captured in what some of us refer to as "institutional performance management."
With apologies for a commercial reference to my employer, I'll note that SunGard Higher Education's Institutional Performance Management Services help institutions identify key metrics for their strategic goals, implement an enterprise data warehouse and dashboard reporting system around those goals and metrics, and plan and implement IT-enabled service redesign initiatives to improve upon and account for the same goals and metrics. The leading sentence in the current report's third recommendation captures succinctly and perfectly the challenge addressed by institutional performance improvement services and the premise of this blog:
"To meet the challenges of the 21st century, higher education must change from a system primarily based on reputation to one based on performance."
Inside Higher Ed provides a more complete account of the Commission's third draft in A Near-Final Report?, and Chronicle subscribers can peruse Federal Panel on Higher Education Releases Third Draft Report in Advance of Final Meeting. My recent post, Amending the future of higher education, speaks and links to earlier work and reports from the Commission.