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The Innovative University by Clayton M. Christensen and Henry J. Eyring

This article was inspired by Clayton M. Christensen's and Henry J. Eyring Jr.'s The Innovative University . If you enjoy this article then consider purchasing or borrowing the book.

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How to Change the Organization of Higher Education for the Better

“It is necessary to step back…and rethink the traditional university.”

Universities cling to the many unwise conventions that must change if these institutions are to keep up with trends. Students have begun to distrust American colleges, as four-year degrees can take five or six years to earn, while this hard work doesn’t guarantee employment upon graduating. If universities wish to improve themselves, they will have to adapt to changes in the twenty-first century.

With the inception of online education, students started to move away from college classrooms to the convenience of cheaper instruction at home. Many institutions have sought a solution to this problem by attempting to imitate Harvard’s continued success.

Just as Harvard has adapted to continual change since its founding in 1636, other establishments of higher learning can evolve in the Internet age. Traditional colleges can use the shift towards online education to their advantage, as access to a prestigious college’s resources will be available to those incapable of physically attending the institution itself.

The current tenure system favors experienced professors, while discouraging the rest of the faculty. This is especially true of colleges that fail to produce stellar research. A new system needs to appease professors, since they have also become significantly underpaid as a norm.

Just as Harvard spearheaded the move towards research in the 18th century and academic honors, elective courses and tenure in the 20th century, another university adapted when necessary. Brigham Young University-Idaho, a Mormon school, utilized some of Harvard’s strategies when it was founded as Ricks Academy in 1888. However, this institution made the necessary changes over time. Eliminating competitive sports altogether, emphasizing education as a moral imperative and removing distinctions of pay amongst its professors, BYU-Idaho made changes when they were needed.

Both Harvard and BYU remain successful universities because they adapted when necessary. Rather than comparing themselves to others, establishments of higher education must look to trends in the student body for inspiration. Though difficult, programs that do not align with the overall focus of an institution should be eliminated. Whether giving undergraduates research opportunities or creating more online course options, traditional colleges and universities must evolve in this current climate, if they wish to be successful.


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