Changing economic fundamentals

Higher Ed has always been in sync with the economy of its era. The ways its students get prepared for careers needs to be a match to diverse roles in the current economy. Higher Ed can continue to produce more of the same kinds of graduates so long as the economy does not change significantly. Economies ride roller coasters which create lots of movement without changing the fundamentals. All the news about those fluctuations can function like the boy who cried wolf when there was no wolf was around. Higher Ed may have been lulled into ignoring any signs of deeper change in the economic fundamentals. Since it is extremely difficult to change itself to be sync with a profoundly changed economy, colleges and universities are making it easy on themselves to assume the economy is "keeping on keeping on".

The current global recession has spawned much speculation and many informed forecasts about changes in economic fundamentals. Those who view the market as the ultimate arbiter of value and fair prices are the least likely to recognize a significant revision. They continue to assume there will always be lots of consumers paying for goods and services at prices determined by the equilibrium of supply and demand. This crowd reassures institutions of higher ed that they don't need to change until the market tells them to through declines in enrollment, grants, donations and legislative subsidies.

When we anticipate "where the hockey puck is going to be", we create opportunities to be proactive. We get ahead of the curve. We watch for early indications of emerging trends. We consider where things are headed. We challenge assumptions about the status quo being built to last. We look for patterns of economic transformation in current events that resemble other times of upheaval and revision. When I think ahead like this, here's what I'm foreseeing:

  1. An unstoppable decline in over-consumption and materialistic values in favor of the experiences that money cannot buy.
  2. A growing desire to spend less time each week making money in order to spend more time pursuing personal and shared passions
  3. A widespread enjoyment of the freedoms in self-employment, results-only work, swarming and freelancing
  4. An expectation that better work will get done by intrinsically motivated volunteers with some "skin in the game" than by extrinsically driven mercenaries
  5. An increasing variety of personal experiences with crowdsourced, peer2peer and democratized endeavors
  6. A growing challenge to economic models which enclose a commons and protect contrived scarcities of free resources
  7. An deepening belief in the benefits of transparency, diversity, sharing, self-selected participation and creative personal contributions

These seven trends are not the noisy ups and downs of the rickety roller coaster. These migrations relocate the underlying structure of the global economy. It suggests that higher ed needs to make big changes to be in sync with an emerging set of economic fundamentals. It will appear increasing obsolete, unresponsive and clueless to prepare college graduates for that worn out economy of the bygone era.

Note: This post addresses issue: 15. Prepared for the next economy
of the 15 Issues in the reform of higher ed.

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