An Opportunity That We Cannot Afford to Miss

We have all heard the doomsday reports announcing the demise of higher education as we know it.  These pronouncements possess a fair amount of hyperbole; however, many of the predictions may become a reality for institutions that refuse to confront the changing landscape.  Higher education as a whole must address society’s expectations for innovation and options in education or become obsolete.

Innovative disruption has become a catch phrase for change in all walks of life and it is not a foreign idea in education. If disruption is accepted as reality, the question for any institution is: How will we, collectively, respond to the disruption in expectations?  There are three discernible answers to this question: ignore disruption altogether, treat disruption as a short-term problem or embrace disruption as a catalyst for change.

Ignoring disruption and continuing business as usual is obviously not a viable option, an institution taking this approach may survive short-term but will descend into longer-term obsolescence.  An institution that takes a reactionary or short-term approach without addressing longer term needs may survive long-term but will expend valuable resources and energy reacting to the next challenge, and the next.

We as an institution must take a different path: acknowledge that disruption is real, and embrace the incredible opportunities it will provide for innovation.  It is vital for UTC to seize the opportunities inherent in this time of change and remain ahead of the curve.   We must continually explore new concepts and educate ourselves regarding what tomorrow’s students will want and need from higher education.

An old Chinese proverb states, “Vision without action is merely a dream; Action without vision merely passes the time; Vision with action can change the world.” This begs the question: What is our vision for the future of UTC?

In fall 2014 we began in earnest a strategic planning process to lead this university for the next five years.  Shortly after this effort began, campus leaders announced the need for an intensive study of our campus and of our budget in order to reduce our overall expenditures by 4.75%.  This reduction will coincide with a reallocation of funds to some of UTC’s growing and highly competitive departments, programs, student support services and administrative units. There are no easy answers in any budget discussion; however, this is more than a budget reduction process.  We must all take advantage of the incredible opportunity we have to participate in a transformation of UTC that ensures our continued relevance in education and in the marketplace.

The performance of any university must include a triad of functions:  education, scholarship, and service to the community. The overall health of UTC can be measured based on how we align and execute these functions in an ever changing educational landscape.  Although we are charged with reducing cost as a means to a better future, what if we looked at this opportunity through a different lens – as a means to transform UTC from a very good institution to a great institution? What if the primary focus was not the dollars but the delivery of learning in innovative and extraordinary ways and the organizational alignment? What would we look like, how would we function, and what would the benefits be for faculty, staff, students and community?

The transformation to an innovative and extraordinary university would result in:

  • Personal benefits: Creating greater individual rewards and expanded opportunities for advancement in an opportunity-based environment.
  • Collective benefits: Reducing or eliminating silos – we can accomplish more collectively.
  • Student benefits: Opening a wider array of programs and learning options for students that better prepare them for future challenges.
  • University benefits: Leading through change rather than reacting to change.
  • Community benefits: Increasing and supporting Chattanooga’s entrepreneurial and innovative spirit.

This is a pivotal time for UTC’s future. The attitude and spirit we invest in our strategic plan and budget reprioritization and rebalancing are critical to our future success. Every faculty member, staff member and student makes UTC what it is, and as such we each have a role to play in shaping UTC’s future.

Please help us as we move toward better alignment, fiscal accountability, and exceptional learning opportunities for our students.  Visit the Budget Rebalancing website at http://www.utc.edu/budget-rebalancing/ and provide your suggestions, ideas or comments. We want and need to hear from you.  (The website is also accessible from the main utc.edu webpage via the Budget link at the bottom of the page.)

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