Last year I was one of several thought leaders who were asked by the 2006-07 National Association of Colleges and Employers Future Directions Task Force to write an essay on “how college students and employers will interact and connect in the year 2017”. Below is the essay I submitted. While the focus was on Career Advisors, the ideas are certainly applicable to higher ed web professionals. I’m convinced more than ever that our profession will undergo dramtic change in the next 10 years.

Here is a link to the full report called “Through the Looking Glass: The Future of College Recruiting”.

Higher Education Gets Flattened
By Mark A. Greenfield

2017. Welcome to the New World Order.

The World Is Flat, the seminal book written by Pulitzer-Prize winning author Thomas Friedman, describes the fundamental changes that happened at the dawn of the new millennium. Outsourcing, offshoring, insourcing, and the other flattening forces have created a connected world, and business will never be the same. Exponential change is here. While higher education is notoriously slow to change, change will happen, and quicker than you think.

Globalization 3.0, the arrival of the technically adept Millennial Generation, and the ongoing Communications Revolution will create a perfect storm that will forever change the college campus. Rising tuition prices and increased competition for the best students and best faculty will require colleges and universities to operate more as a business. In addition to fundamental pedagogical changes, all support services will be subject to the forces that have flattened the business world. The services and processes provided by career centers will be disaggregated, distributed, produced, and reassembled with amazing efficiency. It may well be that many of the functions of the college career center will be outsourced. If placing orders today at the fast food drive-through is handled by a call center hundreds of miles away, anything is possible 10 years from now.

By 2017, providing guidance to college graduates as they make the transition from college to work will require a new paradigm. Many basic assumptions that exist today will no longer be relevant. How do we prepare our graduates for jobs that don’t exist yet? With the growth of free agency, more graduates will work for themselves or small companies instead of large corporations. Americans working for a foreign company may be as commonplace as working for an American company. (Defining an American company may be impossible). With the half life of knowledge now measured in months and years instead of decades and centuries, lifelong learning will become essential and nontraditional students may outnumber traditional students.

In this sea of change there will be an opportunity to redefine the role of higher education professionals and company recruiters. As Daniel Pink describes in his book A Whole New Mind, we are moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. As many services of the career center become even more virtual and automated, the key will be to focus on the value chain. Automation and outsourcing of the routine, lower level work will allow more time to focus on creativity, leadership, and innovation, and ultimately better services to students. The time to think about these issues is now, before higher education gets flattened.

2017. Welcome to the New World Order.