University Leaders Raise Concerns About Adapting to Market Forces Reshaping Higher Education
October 21, 2019

​Leaders of transformation-ready universities prepare for continual competition and disruption

A new report, “The Transformation-Ready Higher Education Institution: How Leaders Can Prepare for and Promote Change," co-authored by ACE, Huron, and the Georgia Institute of Technology, found that few higher education leaders are highly confident that their institutions are adequately prepared for changing market forces. Additionally, leaders are challenged by public perceptions of the value of higher education and increased competition for students both domestically and internationally.

The leaders that consider a long-term, yet adaptive, strategic planning approach can better anticipate these market trends and make the necessary changes to thrive now and in the future. Yet only 16 percent of respondents are looking 10 years or beyond in terms of strategic planning.

“We know there is no one correct approach to preparing for change. We do know strong leadership, careful but dynamic planning, and a resolute focus on students will better position institutions to educate the learners of today and tomorrow in new ways," said co-author Louis Soares, chief learning and innovation officer at ACE.

The authors of the report suggest creating a culture of shared leadership that considers multiple perspectives rather than a single person or governing body. This model can help institutions prepare and be nimble enough to respond to these changes.

Most leaders recognize changes are needed to respond to the competitive landscape and acknowledge these investments should align with the evolving student population, with the majority of respondents indicating they are rapidly overhauling their academic programs, investing in technological improvements, and expanding online offerings.

“The fastest growing population in higher education is adult learners, now comprising nearly half of the total learner population. Working professionals have vastly different needs than those of the traditional student," said Dr. Nelson Baker, dean of professional education at Georgia Tech. “That shift coupled with the fact that technology allows us to provide educational opportunities on a global scale makes it imperative that we plan more strategically and prioritize agility in order to meet the needs of learners today and in the future."

Yet only 14 percent of the leaders planning technology investments have strategic technology management integrated across their institutions—suggesting a potential gap between intentions and leadership's capacity to realize the value of these investments.

“Many institutions subscribe to planning models that were built for a different time and a different competitive market," said Peter Stokes, managing director in Huron's education business. “To become truly transformation-ready, institutions' short- and long-term planning efforts should link directly to the needs of increasingly empowered, discerning audiences for whom higher education is not simply a next step after high school."  


Together, ACE, Huron, and the Georgia Institute of Technology surveyed 495 higher education leaders, including more than 250 presidents and chancellors, from four-year public and private nonprofit institutions to understand their perspectives about how their organizations are preparing for the inevitable change and disruption. Participants were asked how they are anticipating and planning for shifts in market trends such as declines in federal and state funding, increased competition, and a shrinking, yet more diverse, student population.

In addition to the survey, several participants were interviewed to offer their perspectives on innovation and its impact on the higher education industry. Portions of those interviews are included in the report, which can be viewed here.


ACE’s Senior Vice President for Learning and Engagement Philip Rogers will be discussing the report during a webinar tomorrow, Oct. 22 at 2 p.m. (ET). Report co-authors Soares, Baker, Stokes, and Richard DeMillo of Georgia Tech will discuss how leaders can position their institutions for meaningful change by building upon four key dimensions of transformation readiness. Click here​ to register.​

Media Contact
Audrey Hamilton
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Report Highlights

  • Few higher education leaders are highly confident that their institutions are adequately prepared for changing market forces.
  • Leaders have more confidence about the future at institutions with longer planning horizons and integrated performance management structures.
  • A majority of institutions are planning three to five years out, with less than 20 percent planning 10 years or beyond.

Four transformation-readiness imperatives:

  1. Empowering and promoting a shared leadership model
  2. Planning differently for the immediate- and long-term
  3. Pursuing data-driven performance management
  4. Creating student-first engines to meet new demand
Download (1.6 MB PDF)​

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