Presidents and faculty agree that innovation should focus on changes to teaching models. However, they lament that the innovation conversation remains focused on technology and cost-cutting and dominated by politicians and business.

Maguire Associates has released summary findings of a survey of 427 presidents and 1,199 faculty members at four-year public and not-for-profit colleges and universities in the U.S. The research was undertaken in 2014 and 2013 in partnership with The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Presidents and faculty have strong albeit disparate views about the future of U.S. higher education. This divergence of opinion has implications both for higher education policymaking as well as how presidents and faculty lead their institutions and enact reforms:

  • Sense of Direction: Half the faculty members in the survey believe that U.S. higher education is “going in the wrong direction,” while only one-third of the presidents hold this pessimistic view (Figure 1).

Figure 1

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  • Eye of the Beholder: Presidents and faculty both believe that the U.S. rankings in global higher education are likely to decline in the next 10 years. However, presidents see this as a slight decline from a very strong position while faculty see it as a more severe decline from a moderately strong position (Figure 2).

Figure 2

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  • Views on Value: More than half the presidents believe that American higher education provides very good or excellent value while less than one-third of faculty believe so (Figure 3).

 Figure 3

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Common Cause on Innovation

While the views of presidents and faculty diverge considerably on the current state of U.S. higher education, both parties share certain perspectives about innovation:

  • The Blame Game? Both presidents and faculty believe politicians and business leaders have too much say in driving innovation. One wonders, however, whether some respondents are blaming outsiders for voicing concerns over matters for which they could be exerting greater responsibility (Figures 4 and 5).
  • Leading Innovation: Interestingly, presidents and faculty also agree that faculty should top the list of those driving change and innovation, though presidents do not currently see faculty in this role. This raises questions as to how best to mobilize faculty to play this substantial leadership role. (Figures 4 and 5)

Figure 4

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Figure 5

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  • More than Cost-Cutting: Presidents and faculty also agree that the focus of innovation should be on changes to teaching and learning models, but that current discussions center instead on cost cutting and technology (Figure 6).

Figure 6

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  • What Kind of Innovations? Faculty and presidents agree that blended learning, adaptive learning and interactive technology are some of the most promising aspects of innovation. However, both parties hold negative views of innovations that question the status quo such as competency-based education and prior-learning assessments. Presidents and faculty hold very negative views of innovations that directly threaten the current business model such as MOOCs (Figures 7 and 8). It is interesting to note that only two percent of faculty report having taught a MOOC and nine percent say they ever have taken a MOOC course, so lack of familiarity may also be at work here

Figure 7

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Figure 8

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  • Slow Pace of Change: Ultimately, the majority of presidents and faculty in the survey concur that the pace of change in higher education is too slow (Figure 9). Reinforcing that opinion, both parties agree that higher education will not be much different in 10 years than it is today.

Figure 9

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How to Proceed?

Presidents and faculty believe change is too slow and that the market in 10 years will look pretty much as it does today. In considering the innovations needed to accelerate change and improve higher education, however, both parties do not appear to be looking sufficiently at themselves for solutions. Significant numbers of presidents and faculty believe that others such as politicians and business leaders are driving conversations about the wrong priorities and that more assertive innovations such as competency-based education, prior-learning assessments and MOOCs are to be viewed suspiciously. One wonders in this context how needed change will ever actually occur.

These research results suggest at least one path for presidents and faculty to enact substantive leadership in these areas. If presidents truly believe that faculty should be driving innovation (especially around new learning models), then greater numbers of them should be motivating and mobilizing faculty to do so. And if faculty truly believe that they should be collaborating with students to drive innovation, then maore of them need similarly to engage students in this change process. If these initiatives are done well, perhaps another survey in 10 years will show presidents and faculty sharing far more optimistic views about the state of higher education.

This research follows earlier surveys of presidents and employers, all undertaken in partnership with The Chronicle of Higher Education. Results from our 2013 survey of over 700 employers can be found at What Presidents Think: A 2013 Survey of Four-Year College Presidents, or read our summary slides for this survey of presidents and faculty.