After 55 years of consistent growth, higher education enrollment started dropping in 2013, shifting institutions' underlying economic driver and creating the need for leaders to completely rethink how they have traditionally operated.
Given the magnitude of change across academia, the safe solutions that have long guided institutional growth are no longer sufficient. What was unthinkable only 15 years ago—the closure of established institutions—is becoming increasingly commonplace, forcing leaders to consider major operational restructuring (what the authors call "Big Scary Change") in response. This paper outlines the competencies required of those who lead such efforts.
- Declining enrollment, loss of public confidence and the devaluation of higher education, as well as viable alternatives to college degrees, will continue to put financial pressure on the majority of institutions for decades to come.
- Strategies that may allow, in some manner, continuation of the mission, heritage, and identity of many institutions include finding strategic partners and undertaking major institutional restructuring (e.g., mergers).
- Successfully implementing dramatic and unfamiliar change requires leadership behaviors that are qualitatively different from otherwise successful and nurturing leadership in "normal" times.
- Leaders must be selected and trained for the skills and qualities needed to lead major institutional restructuring, and be provided protection and support in the face of inevitable and often passionate opposition.