Yesterday the DOW closed at 7,552.29, losing 5.56% of its value for the day. We are hearing this news all too often over the last few weeks. This is the worst economic environment we have seen in quite some time. And it’s not just the financial institutions and the automobile industry that are suffering. Higher ed is feeling the pain as well.

SUNY just announced a tuition hike effective this January. There are numerous stories about budget cuts, hiring freezes and no money for travel. The Boston Globe recently wrote an article on how Financial Chaos Threatens to Besiege Universities. I am feeling the effects myself. My operating budget this fiscal year is 32% less than the previous year, despite a significant increase in workload. And I am being told it will be worse next year.

Yet, for all the pain caused by the current financial meltdown, it is only the warning shot across the bow.

The true paradigm shift is just around the corner. The tipping point will happen shortly when stealth fighter parents will replace helicopter parents on college campuses. Gen X parents are coming and they will demand that colleges reexamine their entire operation from a price and value perspective. They will look at the college their children attend as a calculated market choice. They will view colleges as one of many providers in a large marketplace as new competitors emerge providing alternative choices for much of what college provides.

All of this will put increasing pressure on colleges to provide value and to focus on efficiencies. Consider the following from a recent survey on the rising costs of higher education:

  • 64% of respondents do not believe higher college costs are leading to more learning on campus
  • 44% believe that waste and mismanagement significantly factor into increasing college costs

I spent much of 2007 writing about how higher education web development will get flattened. The premise is that the same forces of globalization that have flattened the business world will soon flatten higher education and that their will be repercussions for higher education web professionals. What happens when web development becomes a commodity? The services we provide will be disaggregated, distributed, produced and reassembled with amazing efficiency. It may well be that many of our services will be outsourced in the relatively near future.

I recommend we approach this coming storm proactively. Become a web evangelist. Focus on how the web can provide value and how it provides a sound return on investment. Use valuation methodologies like ROI to provide the framework for prioritizing projects and accountability.

Many people who hear my presentation on “Higher Ed Web Development Gets Flattened” leave thinking that none of us will have jobs five years from now. That is not my intention and I don’t believe that will be the case. In fact, I think the opposite is true. The role the web plays on college campuses is undervalued. When the time comes to disaggregate the functions of the university, the forensic accountants will quickly see that the web provides true value and should get more resources, not less. That being said, I do think our jobs will change dramatically. The best approach is to start to think about this now. To quote Will Rogers:

“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”