Planning at the Speed of Change

Futurists say we overestimate short-term trends and underestimate long-term trends. Substantive change emerges slowly, even though it feels like it is thrust upon us quickly.

That is what makes planning perilous: our assumptions about the future are rooted in the present and informed by the past. Plans reflect our own expectations about how much we’ll change and how quickly.

Higher education planning is particularly challenging these days. We face an unprecedented six-pack of change:

  • Demographic decline
  • Economic uncertainty
  • Workforce expectations
  • Technological innovation
  • Societal change
  • Public policy

Combined, these are a challenge and an opportunity. Colleges and universities have trailed societal change for generations. I believe that’s why they’ve been so resilient. Few organizations of any kind have endured hundreds of years of vast societal change. Perhaps that’s because, as the futurists say, long-term trends matter most.

There are four things we can count on as we plan:

Education will remain a human enterprise. Technology has influenced pedagogy but has never supplanted the connection between teacher and student.

Education is relational, not transactional. Human inquiry requires interaction and engagement that cannot be achieved in isolation.

Learning draws on all of our experiences — in the classroom, the lab and the studio, and also in the residence hall, the playing field, the stage and the workplace. All belong in our educational journey.

Central College will remain student-centered. Our students are influenced by the world as they have experienced it. As society evolves, so do they. It is our task to receive them as they are and guide them into the future.

Most of all, we seek to enable our students to discern a short-term trend from a long-term enduring value. That is the greatest gift we, as teachers and mentors, can give them. It will serve them well through times of change.

I invite you to learn more about how Central is planning for change by reading “The State of the College.”

Mark: My Words
Read more of President Putnam’s writing at

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