Make Everything Count: Part 4


Make Everything Count Toward a Goal of Sustainability

Contemporary thought has reached consensus that the existing model of higher education is not economically sustainable.  The angst this produces across all higher education communities is palpable. Defensive postures, the natural reaction of denial and resistance to change resulting from heightened tensions creates a difficult political environment for developing meaningful plans to move forward. The issue of economic viability, as it moves to the fore of public educational and economic policy, often precludes thoughtful transformation. Leaders often seek quick fixes to budgetary constraints, and attempt to achieve short term returns instead of investing in the future by building a resilient educational enterprise. Sadly some academic leaders are just trying to make it to retirement without confronting the future. Sadly the beliefs, their metrics and value structures turn to successes of the past wasting valuable cycle time for transformational planning and implementation. Unfortunately, many just do not understand the different dimensions that are emerging that define the future of the global digital learning ecosystem.

SustainabilityThe concept of sustainability when applied to the future of higher education refers to rendering a new model or models that are economically and intellectually viable, and both socially equitable and responsible. The curriculum as warranted by the earning of the credential is and will remain the lifeblood of the  global digital learning ecosystem. The production of new knowledge, the continued research and development of new concepts must be a continued focus of the realm if society is to address the legacy and emergent problems facing the human condition. How these are done is an open question.

Higher education must focus upon the right things and understand their context for the future. Academics must take care to avoid internecine warfare over the challenges to the current models brought about by the paradigm shift. Instead, a focus upon optimizing the emergence of the global digital learning ecosystem as a means to create a more effective and efficient higher education experience. For example, we focus our attention on online programs rather than assimilate the power of the emerging global digital learning infrastructure. We evaluate the impact of MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Course’s) through a lens of completion rates rather than what is learned about scalability, geographic reach, open engagement or the magnitude of impact on strategic position. The point here is not that completion rates are not important when evaluating the performance of an industry accumulating $1.2 trillion in consumer debt. It is to point out that the comparison to MOOC’s that are free to the consumer renders the issue impotent. Make no mistake all of higher education is not asleep, and there is a palpable pulse of strong creativity, innovation and experimentation building worldwide.

The goal of sustainability in the future of higher education refers to rendering a model or models that are both economically and intellectually viable. To do this, we must recognize that the fundamental economics and business models are intertwined, and they need very close scrutiny. First is the issue of section size. In the post “Curriculum drives enrollment, enrollment drives revenue, revenues drive everything else!” we illustrated in the Margin Case Study (below) the economics of managing to a break even section size and pointed out that the failure results in a structural deficit that undermines the long term economic health of the institution. The specifications of section size are basic components of the curriculum architecture that is in place, and it is difficult to modify.

Margin Case Study

This case example of margin is a highly distilled illustrative study from a client engagement illustrates sustainable scenario.

Understanding the future requires accepting that the curriculum architecture is the fundamental foundation upon which to build the future. We described the context, concept and construct of Curriculum Architecture in another post. The issue becomes how do we engage the academy in a sustained serious discussion of new horizons for the design, development, and implementation of a curriculum architecture that aligns with and optimizes the new paradigm. See Higher Ed as a Business vs. the Business of Higher Ed. The stark reality is that it has become an open global dialog, and innovation and entrepreneurs are simply building strong, effective components of a resilient, cost effective learning ecosystem.  In our resource page on Digital Learning Environments, we shared some of the examples and more are on their way.

In the U.S., two elements hold the current model for higher education together, and they are inexorably linked. The first recognizes the sanctity of accreditation as a prerequisite to the second, access to massive federal and state funding. As public policy aligns with new realities these elements are vulnerable to change. Crushing public debt will force them to change. Higher education must make progress toward preemptive positioning the sector, and that is the focus of “Make Everything Count” as a strategy. Take stock of the initiatives underway illustrated in Change the Paradigm. Examine the experiences in Merging Public Colleges in Georgia, and the new planning efforts exampled by MIT as described in Develop Capacity: Part 3. Extrapolate the impact of the Georgia Tech initiative where students enrolled in the new Master of Science in Computer Science program will pay less than $7,000 for a graduate degree, compared to $45,000 for on-campus students. Time waits for no one and transitions are occurring much faster than most realize. Sustainability requires a keen focus upon institutional effectiveness and organizational performance.

Sustainable Performance

Deep systemic, strategic planning is required to nurture change. Change that results in a cohesive focus upon efficiency and effectiveness while creating an environment of sustainable performance aligned with the emerging realities of the Global Digital Learning Ecosystem. That means removing barriers and creating an environment for sustainable performance. To begin the Ivey Business Journal offers The New Leadership Challenge: Removing the Emotional Barriers to Sustainable Performance in a Flat World and Harvard Business Review offers Creating Sustainable Performance. Remember the result must be sustainable.


Sustainability of an institution of higher education is determined by its position in the global digital learning ecosystem resulting from the paradigm shift. Making everything count requires an intense focus upon understanding the strategic position that is desired for the organization and the detailed elements that contribute to achieving it. Sustaining that focus constantly requires doing the things that advance position in the global learning marketplace. This means working within means and not developing an everything strategic is an add on mentality.

Path Forward

  • Building an open, healthy academic culture is paramount.
  • Recognize the insidious sources of overhead.
  • Recognize the need to make time for working on the future.
  • Understand that everything that costs time or money must add value to the learning process or the design, development, delivery, or assessment of it
  • Closely examine initiatives already underway.
  • Engage in one sustained, comprehensive process that delivers immediate, mid term and long range  results.


Recognize that developing metrics to help measure value is an important part of the process. Also understand developing a culture of good stewardship of resources (time, money, space).

  • Understanding the basic financial realities of the learning sphere and academic enterprises is essential.
  • Understand the concept of margins-a condition where the value exceeds the cost.
  • Understand changes in scale, scope, and geographic reach now being contemplated by colleges, universities, and learning providers.

How to begin?

  1. Begin by using structured dialog to bring focus and clarity to planning and managing the academic enterprise in the learning age. The MGD+A SRS method is useful in this effort.
  2. Conceptualize an overarching effectiveness strategy to guide structured assessments that help determine the value and impact of ideas, initiatives, and strategies.
  3. Document the dialog and the plan and use it to guide you to the future.
  4. Don’t forget to let us know what you are using and how it is working. Engaging will also permit us alerting you to new postings, tools, and references.
  5. Ways to engage with MGD+A
    • Read, like, follow, post comments and questions and engage in open dialog via our Blog.
    • Join the Academic SEM LinkedIn Group.
    • Email questions or observations.
    • Continue to use the website to navigate our methodologies and use our tools
    • Utilize one of our webinars
    • Schedule web consultation using our WebEx conferencing system
    • Schedule a call to explore questions, process, or opportunities

Our next post in the series will feature the Master Academic Plan.

Master Academic Plan: Part 5

Develop Capacity: Part 3

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