Tulane University Environmental Scan Executive Summary

Prepared by the Strategic Planning Framework Committee - August 1998


Executive Summary

In performing this analysis of trends affecting higher education, the Strategic Planning Framework Committee identified several overarching themes. First, institutions of higher education operate in a rapidly changing environment characterized by rapid knowledge growth, rapid dissemination of information technology, and rapidly changing student needs and demands. Trends towards globalization and internationalization have fueled the pace of change. Second, institutions of higher education have a new role in society. They are educating older learners and facilitating community and social change. Increased accountability to and scrutiny by various public groups has helped drive this change. Finally, institutions of higher education are losing their traditional autonomy. Alliances between institutions and relationships with non-educational institutions are growing. Institutional autonomy is being eroded by these affiliations as well as by the rapid growth of information technology. In large part, these overarching themes of change, complexity, global fluidity and boundary erosion mirror trends in society at large.

The environmental scan has also revealed conflicts and paradoxes. Within the realm of learning, these include the conflict between demand for general education and demand for skills training, the conflict between teamwork models of learning and individual measures of learning and the conflict between the expansion of electronic informational and educational technology and the concern for quality control. We also see a conflict between technology teaching solutions that lead to active and participatory learning and "distance" education whereby students are passive recipients of videotaped lectures. Costs at traditional institutions are rising despite decreasing perception of benefit and despite increasing competition from non-traditional institutions. Demand for higher education is rising at the same time as criticism and scrutiny of higher education is rising. We believe that bearing these types of conflicts in mind while reading this document may provide a richer understanding of the current environment of higher education.

The Strategic Planning Framework Committee has identified eight critical topic areas and the trends shaping those areas. They are:

  • Increased sensitivity to economic and market forces,
  • Changing models of learning,
  • Changing role of faculty,
  • Implications/proper uses of information technology,
  • Increased hybrid structures and blurring of lines between universities and other entities,
  • Changing management, governance, and organizational systems,
  • Globalization, and
  • Accountability, responsibility and public scrutiny.


Increased Sensitivity to Economic and Market Forces

Despite increasing opportunities for higher education, price at traditional private and state-supported institutions, as well as the cost burden borne by students, has risen. In private four-year colleges and universities, tuition nearly doubled between 1987 and 1996 and the average instructional cost per student rose 84%. Institutional financial aid costs, facilities costs, technology costs, regulatory costs and the costs of student services have risen.

Increasing costs combined with institutional income levels that are rising less rapidly than tuition levels threaten the ability of traditional institutions of higher education to meet student demands. The result is that access has not been achieved, especially in private higher education. At a time when the level of education needed for productive employment is increasing, opportunities available to lower-income students are shrinking.

Student demographics and demand are changing. There are increased numbers and participation rates of traditional age students; increased regional concentration of high school graduates; increased ethnic diversity among students; and an increased number of non-traditional age students. The number of high school graduates in the United States is projected to increase from 2.5 million in 1995 to 3 million in 2007 and enrollment at private institutions is expected to rise from 3 to 3.5 million.

Demographic trends also show a continuing growth of the non-traditional age students. The demand for continuous, life-long learning is supported by increasing needs of working people to retool and update their skills to respond to changes in job demands. The increasing pace of technological innovation and trends towards multiple career changes will keep demand for non-traditional education high.

There is also increased attention to the value derived from higher education, and students' choice of institution is increasingly driven by their value judgements. Students and their families are less willing to pay for college education; they are also less able to pay. Average federal grant assistance as a percentage of college cost is falling; federal self-help assistance though work-study and loans is rising. A greater share of the financing burden of higher education is falling on the institution, the family and the student.

Finally, we see an environment of increased competition. There is increasing competition for the best, fully able to pay students. In addition, colleges and universities are increasingly competing with non-traditional providers, particularly for older and part-time students. These institutions include for-profits with dispersed, convenient campuses, on-line providers, and corporate education programs.


Changing Models of Learning

To enhance undergraduate education, many institutions are creating new programs that encourage group interaction and interaction with faculty. They include programs such as freshman seminars and interest groups, and residential colleges.

There is increasing attention to assessing student learning by competencies acquired: information, critical-thinking, writing and oral skills. This trend has led to increased attention to teaching and increasing pressure to assess rigorously the quality of teaching. Likewise, the renewed emphasis on active student learning, rather than on the delivery of information by experts, is changing the way faculty think about their roles as teachers.

Changes in graduate education include greater emphasis on pedagogy in graduate training as well as greater emphasis on preparing students for non-academic career options.The reduction in available tenure track positions has made graduate students more aware of the need to prepare for employment opportunities beyond the academy. Professional education is increasingly emphasizing skills training and competency, as employers demand that schools provide graduates with skills and competencies they can put to work immediately.


Changing Role of Faculty

Faculty are facing demands for changes in pedagogy, especially at the undergraduate level.These changes center around a move from a "teaching" to a "learning" model. At the same time, resource constraints have led to increases in faculty workloads. Full time faculty at private research institutions spend more time in the classroom and face higher expectations for student contact. Faculty also face the growing challenge of incorporating information technology into teaching.

Institutions are increasing the use of part-time faculty; there has also been an increase in the number of full-time non-tenure track faculty, and a consequent decrease in the number of faculty on tenure track. In addition, there is a continuing trend toward the development of a winner-take-all market in which institutions vie for the services of "star" faculty through generous salary and benefit packages.


Implications / Proper Uses of Information Technology

Electronic informational and educational technology (EIET) holds the promise of improving educational quality and productivity, while saving increasingly scarce funds. EIET has allowed for the development of new vehicles of learning, like virtual universities and distance education, with courses offered through video or the Internet. It has also allowed for changes in learning at traditional institutions; students at residential campuses benefit from a full array of technologically enhanced approaches.

The nature of faculty work will change with EIET. Students will no longer need to be present on campus to learn, and teachers will no longer have to be present to teach. Nonetheless, learning face-to-face will remain crucial during a time in which employers value teamwork. We have seen examples of conflicts between institutional commitment to EIET and faculty concerns about status, tenure, and quality control. Conflict over appropriate uses of EIET will likely continue.


Increased Hybrid Structures and Blurring of Lines between Universities and Other Entities

Institutions of higher education are forming hybrid structures with industry and with other institutions of higher education. Colleges are increasingly dependent on corporate donations, faculty chairs endowed by corporations, and other non-traditional corporate sponsorships. Alliances between institutions of higher education have also been created to realize operational savings and to streamline programs to match institutional mission.

Institutions of higher education are also creating hybrid structures to pursue social goals as part of a trend towards aligning the institutional agenda with the public agenda. Increasing calls for accountability from institutions of higher education have led to demands that institutions respond effectively to social problems, such as K-12 school reform, population control, health care reform, crime, poverty, drugs, environmental cleanup, and vaccines/cures for disease.


Governance, Management and Organizational Systems

We see a trend towards reexamination of governance systems in higher education, fueled by tension between administrators' and board members' concern about institutional ability to succeed in an environment of rapid change and faculty concern about threats to traditional systems of governance. On the one hand, organizations like the Association of Governing Boards criticize shared governance systems as unable to accommodate rapid change. On the other hand, organizations like AAUP reassert commitment to shared governance and monitor schools for compliance. And, the role of governing boards nationwide is changing. Fueled by successes of corporate boards, many University boards are moving from a hands-off posture to a more activist posture in areas historically envisioned as the purview of the administration and faculty.

Some institutions are discussing change to organizational and management systems for realignment with institutional mission. This trend results in increasing attention to issues of departmental autonomy and resource sharing, and increasing use of assessment tools, attention to faculty productivity, and focus on internal accountability in financial management. Institutions continue to face pressure to increase administrative services in response to growing student demands for service and increased consumer orientation - without increasing overall administrative costs. These challenges will likely result in continued consideration of organizational restructuring.



More and more international students are studying at universities in the United States. Foreign student enrollment in U.S. colleges and universities in the 1995-96 academic year was twice as high as enrollment in 1975-76. However, because of a shift in educational support by international funding agencies, U.S. schools will face growing competition for the best international students. There is a related trend towards internationalization of the curriculum as colleges and universities combine international experience with traditional curricula in order to educate students to live in a global environment.

Other trends affecting the globalization of higher education include the increased use of collaborations and partnerships. There are more international cooperative research projects; more partnerships between universities and foreign governments; increasing development of foreign branches and collaborative institutions by U.S. institutions of higher learning; increasing competition among U.S. and European universities for educational and research partnerships with foreign universities and governments; and increasing support for partnerships with foreign institutions.


Accountability, Responsibility, and Public Scrutiny

Providers of higher education have come under increased scrutiny for quality of education, faculty interest in assisting individual students, and educational costs. And, there is increasing scrutiny by the media of the educational process. Yet, despite increasing criticism of university education, public confidence in these institutions remains high and higher education is deemed valuable.

Institutions of higher education also face increased government scrutiny, regulation and oversight. This occurs in the face of often declining funding support by governmental agencies for education. Institutions of higher education, especially private ones, are increasingly uneasy about potential intrusion by the federal government into institutional autonomy. State inspectors and regional accreditation bodies have also inserted themselves into issues of curriculum, admissions, and faculty qualification. Equal access to higher education is now difficult to provide given the fact that from both governmental and public standpoints, there is waning support for affirmative action. Public policies of access and choice have also come under scrutiny.

The modern research university developed in response to perceptions of institutional responsibility, and to funding allocations, of the post-WWII environment. The future course of research universities will be similarly shaped by current changes in the environment surrounding higher education. The topics described in this document provide a background for understanding the forces that may effect the future development of higher education. The ways in which institutions will respond to the challenges of changing environmental forces and changing societal needs are still unknown.


The Environmental Scan is organized into eight sections plus an introduction.

You may select the section that you want to read,

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Increased Sensitivity to Economic and Market Forces

Changing Models of Learning

Changing Role of Faculty

Implications/ Proper Uses of Information Technology

Increased Hybrid Structures and Blurring of Lines between Universities and Other Entities

Governance, Management and Organizational Systems


Accountability, Responsibility, and Public Scrutiny.



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