Renu Khator

Chapter 4

Innovate or Perish: The Future is Here

  • Renu Khator President, University of Houston System
    President, University of Houston

Chapter Overview

Although it has been nearly a half century since Alvin Toffler's seminal book Future Shock warned us about being under-prepared and overwhelmed by “too much change in too short a period of time,” that cautionary advice remains useful and instructional, especially in our field of higher education. To revise philosopher George Santayana’s famous observation about the past, those who do not create the future are doomed to resent it.

Clearly, disruptive transformations are already underway or looming on the near horizon—a few seem to be fairly predictable, but many (by their very nature) are not. Our academic journals and scholarly publications have been filled with the challenges that currently confront higher education. There is no need to belabor them in detail. It is a litany that most of us know too well:

  • Rising tuition costs, significant student debt, and declining government support

  • The growing impact of MOOCs and other technological advances on traditional educational models, offering the apparent advantages of low-cost delivery but (so far) lacking a business model to survive

  • Increased scrutiny and demands from the public and policymakers about graduation rates, economic outcomes of our students, and the mismatch of degrees and actual skill sets needed for employment

  • Expanding globalization that exacerbates the market demand for intellectual resources (faculty and researchers) while the supply side is lagging

As we grapple with these transformational factors, it is difficult to know how best to react. Race ahead and confront them aggressively? Wait for the smoke to clear and proceed cautiously? Succumb to paralysis by analysis?

I would like to offer a modest shift in our mindset that can serve us well during this period of higher anxiety in higher education. If it is not an outright solution, it can serve as a remedy and help insulate us from that future shock of mounting challenges, escalating changes, and sweeping transformations.

No, it is not a novel way to generate additional revenues, or a startling procedure to improve graduation rates by 20 percent in a single semester. It is an adjustment in attitude.

In her thought provoking chapter, Dr. Khator offers 4 reactions that Higher Education should NOT embody, along with those it should.

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