The 34th annual Pullias Lecture at USC on March 29 featured remarks by Clayton M. Christensen, Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, who is best known for his study of innovation in commercial enterprises.
Christensen, author of The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education From the Inside Out, lectured on what innovations in other markets can teach us about how to improve higher education.
The occasion also marked the official announcement of the renaming of the center in honor of Earl V. Pullias, one of the founding faculty members of USC’s Department of Higher Education in 1957.
The newly named Earl and Pauline Pullias Center for Higher Education at the USC Rossier School of Education was the result of a $5 million bequest from the Pullias family estate. The center previously was known as the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis.
William G. Tierney, USC University Professor and Wilbur-Kieffer Professor of Higher Education at USC Rossier, gave opening remarks. Tierney, who directs the center, said it will display a watch that belonged to Pullias, as a reminder of the timelessness of his family’s gift.
The center’s Pullias Lecture series brings nationally recognized scholars to USC to contribute to academic dialogue on topics in higher and postsecondary education.
Christensen talked about how lower-end products and companies disrupt and displace established higher-end products and companies by first targeting consumers whose only other option is nonconsumption and then moving up in the market.
“Somebody comes up from the bottom of the market and then cleans it out,” he said, using the history of steel mills, automobile manufacturing and Sony’s pocket radios as examples.
Christensen applied the process to higher education, with USC and Harvard on one end and the University of Phoenix on the other.
“Harvard defines performance by faculty resumes, publications and research, and the University of Phoenix defines performance by teaching,” he said. “USC and Harvard must become the Hybrid Prius – taking the best of the old and the new. … We need to integrate these things to prevent a disrupter from displacing us.”
Christensen compared the student loan debt to the mortgage loan crisis and noted that the government has played a role in putting a floor under tuition rather than a ceiling. Elite universities compete by building new facilities and developing new programs, forcing tuition higher and higher.
The future university might be modular, he said, with online learning giving students access to the best faculty and accreditation going to individual courses rather than entire schools.