Utah higher education must adapt or die, Harvard business innovator tells legislators
Christensen told legislators how such "disruptive innovation" applies to higher education with the example of the University of Phoenix, which started by offering courses to non-traditional students whose needs for convenience over quality were not being adequately met by the market.
But at a center in San Francisco, the University of Phoenix is investing $200 million per year to improve teaching and develop online learning. By contrast, Harvard spends almost no money to improve teaching, he said.
The University of Phoenix benefits from vast economies of scale, he added. For example, it teaches 135,000 full-time MBA students compared to Harvard's 900.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a example of a mainstream institution adapting to the changing education market, he said. MIT, the premier engineering and technology university, recently opened up its online courses to all comers.
More than 5 million students worldwide have taken the MIT introductory physics courses, which are taught by Walter Lewin, one of the best physics teachers in the world, he added.
Christensen also noted that technology evolves products from those that are proprietary, such as mainframes completely made by IBM, to "modular" products such as a Dell computer, which has standardized parts made by many manufacturers.
Higher education will go in the same direction, he said. Increasingly, courses that students take will come from many sources, not just a single institution.
As an example, Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said he's recently talked to many college students who use online courses from Khan Academy to better understand what they're taught in traditional courses.
Traditional, mainstream institutions will struggle to change from within, Christensen said. Old bureaucracies too strongly resist new ideas, he said. To survive changing markets, older institutions have to create new, separate entities with the charge of "killing the parent," he said.
In America's conversion from traditional department stores like Macy's to discounters like Kmart, "Only one department store caught the new business wave — Dayton-Hudson," he said. "And they only did it by setting up Target."
Traditional universities may have to do the same as they try to compete in the growing online market.
Pershing noted that 10 percent of credits University of Utah students earn are now coming from online courses. However, those are only offered to the university's students, not others across the world, he said. Pershing added that he's not yet prepared to discuss other innovations that may be in the university's future because they're still in the works.
Christensen grew up in the Rose Park neighborhood of Salt Lake City. He received the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship as an undergraduate student at BYU. He is also a member of the Deseret News Editorial Advisory Board.
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