Change or Die is Still Timely

About 15 years ago, there was a book and article entitled Change or Die that was widely popular and that was discussed at every conference and meeting we attended for a season or two. The thesis of the book and article was simple: When faced with the choice of changing one’s behavior or dying, many humans opt to die.

Of course, my summary is somewhat cynical as the verb opt suggests the choice is a conscious decision to forego longer life. The message of Change or Die is that when humans must change for their health or the health of their organizations, they often find they cannot.

Recently, I was speaking with a leader in higher education about the future of colleges and universities. If you haven’t heard, the number of students enrolling in higher education is decreasing… really decreasing. The number of college-aged young people is decreasing. The number of adults seeking degrees is reducing. The cost of tuition is motivating those in search of education to explore other options.

This is a serious threat to colleges. In the region where I live, there were five colleges open and enrolling students in the fall of 2018. By the end of that school year, there were only two left. While I don’t want to suggest we are at risk of losing 60% of our colleges and universities, I want to illustrate the reality that schools close. When the schools, the faculty and staff and leaders lose their jobs.

Faculty and staff and leaders in higher education are facing the “Change or Die” dilemma. Those who cannot change their behaviour to teach unserved populations via innovative methods and classrooms are likely to metaphorically die as their institutions close.

What are the solutions? You might ask. Well, the reality is there is no sure way to avoid these many and strong factors reducing the demand for traditional higher education. Some ideas, however:

  1. Diversify your teaching toolbox. Those who can only teach via traditional lecture are obsolete; if you can teach online and hybrid sections and you can teach in abbreviated terms, you are more likely to be able to work longer.
  2. Become agile. The path to sustainable operations in higher education is uncertain and dynamic. Once the path cmes clear, it will become muddled.
  3. Unlearn all you know about education and replace it with understanding of deeper learning and how to teach for it.