Critical Trends and Events Affecting the Future of Community Colleges
James L. Morrison, Workshop Facilitator

Critical Trends and Events
Proceedings of a Beyond 2000 Preconference Workshop
Beyond 2000: Visioning the Future of Community Colleges
The 1995 Inaugural Futures Assembly
February 26-28, 1995
Orlando, Florida

We are being bombarded by tumultuous forces for change as we go into the 21st century: Virtual classrooms, global communications, global economies, telecourses, distance learning, corporate classrooms, increased competition among social agencies for scarce resources, pressure for institutional mergers, state-wide program review and so on. In order to plan effectively in this environment, community college leaders must be able to anticipate new developments on their institutions and curricular programs.

The objective of the Beyond 2000 pre-conference environmental scanning workshop was to assist participants to develop competency in establishing and maintaining an external analysis capability on their campuses. Although the description of how to do this is available in earlier publications (Morrison, 1992; Morrison & Mecca, 1989; Morrison, Renfro, and Boucher, 1984), the workshop offered an opportunity for participants to experience using several techniques (e.g. critical trend and potential event identification and forecasting events and their impacts) used in anticipatory strategic management. Moreover, the intent was that this experience would enable participants to replicate the workshop on their campuses.

This is a report of the proceedings of the Beyond 2000 workshop. It is intended to summarize the outcomes of exercises, put these exercises in context, so that you may use them as a guide in conjunction with the references cited above when you implement a similar workshop on your campus.


Trends define the context within which organizations function. Therefore, it is important to identify critical trends, particularly those that are emerging, forecast their future direction, derive their implications for effective planning, and construct plans to take advantage of the opportunities they offer or ameliorate their consequences if they may negatively impact community college education. In trend identification, it is important to look widely in the social, technological, economic, environmental, and political sectors, locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally.

Therefore, the trend exercise focused on identifying critical trends that define the context within which community college education functions. Participants were formed into 6-8 person groups. Each group had the following tasks: identify critical trends, select the five most critical ones, select on of these and derive the implications of the trend if it materialized as they thought it might, and then recommend actions that community college leaders should consider in light of this analysis.

The list below includes the most critical trends (with duplications eliminated).

Critical Trends Identified in the Workshop

  1. Increasing use technology
  2. Expanded learning environment (at home, industry, school)
  3. Shift to conservative government
  4. Increasing numbers of underprepared students
  5. Widening group of haves and have nots (in U.S., globally)
  6. Increasing need for cooperation at all levels of education, business, and government
  7. Increasing loss in high paying jobs
  8. Increasing need for alternative systems of instructional delivery, scheduling, distance learning.
  9. Declining resources for community college education
  10. Increasing diversity of the student population on campus
  11. Increasing immigration
  12. Changing public expectations
  13. Increasing multi-sector mergers, collaborations, and partnerships.
  14. Increasing questioning of the value of community colleges
  15. Changing community college organizational structures
  16. Increasing community college "boundaries"

Trend Analysis

The trends selected for analysis, their implications, and recommendations as to what community college leaders can do are as follows (note: several groups focused on the implications of information/educational technology).

1. Increasing use of educational technology: implications and recommended actions


  1. Less money available for other building renovations/construction
  2. Need for additional funding for up-to-date technology
  3. Need to train faculty, students, staff in using the new technologies
  4. Increasing numbers of students taking courses from many institutions (and corresponding need to articulate with an increasing number of institutions)
  5. Implications for credentialing: will degrees from distance learning programs hold their value? Will degree holders be competent?
  6. With less student-student/faculty student interaction, will social skills be lost? How will occupational training programs socialize occupational values?

What should community college educators do?

  1. Assess effectiveness of the technology
  2. Conduct a cost-benefit analysis
  3. Assess consumers' needs/wants
  4. Analyze current delivery systems in light of new technologies
  5. Assess the extent to which faculty aware of or use information technology in their instruction
  6. Plan and implement faculty development in the use of these technologies
  7. Increase partnerships with industry and others to share resources
  8. Educate funders (regents, legislators)
  9. Reallocate resources
  10. Work with architects when designing new buildings
  11. Keep stakeholders abreast of information technology developments and their implications of instruction
  12. Collaborate with developers

2. Changing job market demands: implications and recommended actions

  1. Need to educate faculty, students, staff to understand these changes and their implications for the curriculum
  2. Need to increase dialogue with employers
  3. Need to employ technology in curricular programs
  4. Need to explore alternative funding sources
  5. Need to focus on outcome measures


Events are unambiguous and confirmable; when they occur, the future is different. Event identification and analysis is critical in anticipatory organizational planning. The event exercise focused on the following tasks:

  1. Identifying potential events that, if they occurred, would affect the future of community college education
  2. Selecting the top five most critical events
  3. Specifying the signals of each of the five most critical events
  4. Forecasting the probability and the impact (both positive and negative) of one of these events
  5. Recommending actions for community college leaders in anticipation of this event

The most critical events and their signals are specified below:

  1. Five states privatize public educational system
  2. Balanced budget amendment passed
  3. Voucher based EP funding mandated
  4. Low-cost voice-activated computers available
  5. Republicans achieve legislative dominance in 40 states
  6. 80% of community college instructions view themselves as "guides on the side, not as sages on the stage"
  7. Affirmative action eliminated
  8. Every home, business, and educational organization is connected to the Internet.
  9. Proprietary schools reach numerical parity with community colleges
  10. Federal funding for education reduced 50%
  11. Retirement age increased to age 70
  12. Power PC/486 computers with 16 megabyte RAM cost below $600
  13. All education costs tax deductible
  14. Educational credit for cable courses universally accepted
  15. 15% increase in Federal taxes
  16. 15% decrease in Federal taxes
  17. 20% reduction in public funds for community colleges nationwide
  18. Ten states fund selected occupational programs in proprietary schools.
  19. Riots occur in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles
  20. Community colleges authorized to grant three-year BA degrees

A major point of this exercise is to focus attention of potential events that could affect the future of our organization. Therefore, the event statements need to be specific (i.e., "15% reduction in Federal taxes) as opposed to "Reduction in taxes." By m aking event statements concise, we can use them productively in estimating their probability and their impact. This was the focus of the probability/impact/implications exercise, described below.

Each group selected one event. Group members first independently estimated the probability of the event occurring within the planning time frame (typically 3, 5, or 10 years) and, if it did occur, its degree of positive an its degree of negative impact on community college education. The task was then as a group to get the reasoning out on the table for disparate forecasts. In essence, the group facilitator asked these questions: What is the reasoning behind a vote that the event is not likely to occur? What is the reasoning behind a vote that the event is highly likely? What is the reasoning behind the vote that the event, if it occurred, would be highly damaging to community education; what is the reasoning behind the vote that if the event occurred, it would not damage community college education at all? And so on.

The events selected for analysis, their median probability (10 year time frame) after discussion, the degree of positive and negative impact, and the recommendations that follow from the analysis are recorded below.

Event Analysis

1. Universal access to the Internet


  1. Historical user growth
  2. Decrease in cost of computers
  3. Increase in services provided
  4. Increase in business applications, and increase in wireless transmissions


  • Median probability: 90%
  • Positive impact: strong to revolutionary
  • Negative impact: middle to severe [privatization of education because of flexibility of Internet; loss or increase of students, depending on how community colleges react]

Recommended actions

  1. Conduct staff training
  2. Work closely with businesses
  3. Continue specializations we do well
  4. Help facilitate access by providing resources to faculty, students, and staff

2. Elimination of financial aid for students


Contract with America


  • Median probability: 50%
  • Degree of positive impact: none
  • Degree of negative impact: moderate to severe [reduction in enrollment; elimination of poor from the educational process]

Recommended actions

  1. Forge more partnerships with industry , business and community
  2. Increase emphasis on alternative funding
  3. Become more politically active
  4. Develop closer ties with alumni
  5. Prepare for declining enrollments
  6. Counsel with parents and students on funding for education.

3. Alternate education providers


  1. Mind extension university
  2. Private services already being offered to students
  3. Private companies developing in-house educational opportunities


  • Median Probability: 95% [No impact statements provided.]

Recommended actions

  1. Create partnerships with providers by offering community college expertise, assessment and accreditation
  2. Develop and provide alternative systems
  3. Develop creative exchanges with educational providers (space, technology, faculty)
  4. Decrease dependence on facilities
  5. Redefine degrees and credits
  6. Redefine where and when learning and work occur
  7. Develop policies on student advisement.(what to take, what is appropriate from diverse educational deliverers)

4. Elimination of DOE


  • Contract with America
  • Perceived lack of value-added


  • Median probability: 60%
  • Degree of positive impact: none
  • Degree of negative impact: moderate to severe

Recommended actions

  1. Create strong relationship with federal level legislators
  2. Evaluate dollar impact


Establishing a comprehensive environmental scanning system on a campus to inform planning requires a good deal of time from everyone involved in the process. Fortunately, we can take advantage of the information highway and can share resources via Horizon List and Horizon Home Page. Horizon List offers the opportunity to respond to draft articles focusing on emerging trends and potential events (for example, I will insert these proceedings on the list for discussion when I get home). Horizon Home Page has a futures planning database of abstracts describing signals of change in the macroenvironment that can affect education; please review this section and please add to it. You may subscribe to Horizon List by sending the following message to subscribe horizon . You may view and contribute to Horizon Home Page by turning your browser to the following URL address:

To stimulate and focus discussion of the implications of emerging tends and potential events on your campus, recommend to the chair of your planning committee that she/he order a site license subscription to On the Horizon. View each issue of On the Horizon as a pump-primer to organizational planning. For example, the chair's cover letter to the first issue should urge planning committee members to consider how the content of particular items in the newsletter affect the institution and to write down their thoughts (or send them to the group via e-mail); their collective thoughts would be used to begin discussion at the next committee meeting.

Before the meeting, the chair could compose a questionnaire identifying those articles in On the Horizon that may affect either the organization as a whole or particular curricular programs. He/she should ask committee members to rank-order the most important ones, and follow this rank order for the discussion agenda.

As the committee becomes accustomed to this process, the chair should request members to send articles, notes, or commentary that they encounter in their reading and at conferences about potential developments that could affect the organization. They should use the structure of the newsletter: send information about signals of change in the STEEP (i.e., social, technological, economic, environmental, and political) categories, particularly on the local and regional levels (On the Horizon tends to focus on the national and international levels). The reason for using this structure is that developments in one sector affect developments in other sectors (i.e., a war in the Middle East affects fuel prices everywhere); therefore, in order to anticipate change, we need to look for developments that may have direct or indirect effects on the organization.

Committee members should examine sources for change in relevant variables (e.g., immigration, price of computers, mood of voters). What change is already taking place? Is there a movement upward or downward? What are the projections? What are the emerging trends (i.e., what combinations of data points—past trends, events, precursors—suggest and support the early stages of a possible trend)? What external events, policies, or regulatory actions would affect or be affected by the projections? They should look for forecasts by experts, and append their own implications section to the emerging issues, critical trends, or potential developments when they send their information items.

The chair should summarize the articles and their implications in the cover letter when sending the next issue of On the Horizon, and include a questionnaire asking each committee member to rank the five most important items submitted by the committee or included in the newsletter.

The agenda for the planning meeting should include the top items. At the meeting, focused around these items, committee members should draw out the implications of the potential developments for ongoing organizational and program planning. They may want more information about a particular trend or potential event. In this case, enlist the aid of a research staffer or librarian (who should be on the planning committee anyway).

Regularly circulating information about potential developments and asking committee members to think of their implications reinforces a future-oriented posture in our colleagues. They will begin to read, hear, and talk about this information not only as something intellectually interesting but as information they can use in practical organizational planning.


The preconference workshop was conducted in a restricted time frame. It was, however, sufficient to give you experience in using several basic approaches to transform information into strategic intelligence for your institution. This experience, in conjunction with the references sited earlier, should help you establish and maintain an environmental scanning capability on your campus.

You have other resources available. One of the major reasons for publishing On the Horizon is to bring you and your colleagues the expertise and foresight of an exceptional and diverse editorial board. Our objective is to alert you to potential developments and emerging trends that may affect your organization so that you can plan for the future more effectively.

Horizon List and Horizon Home Page allow you to participate in and contribute to an on-going dialogue of signals of change in the external environment and their implications for the future of education. Please subscribe to Horizon List, browse Horizon Home Page, and enter into these important discussions with colleagues all over the world.


  • Morrison, J. L. (1992). Environmental scanning. In M. A. Whitely, J. D. Porter, & R. H. Fenske (Eds.), The primer for institutional research (pp. 86-89). Tallahassee: The Association for Institutional Research.
  • Morrison, J. L. & Mecca, T. V. (1989). Managing uncertainty. In J. C. Smart (Ed.), Handbook of theory and research in higher education: Vol 5 (pp. 351-382). New York: Agathon.
  • Morrison, J. L., Renfro, W. L., & Boucher, W. I. (1984). Futures research and the strategic planning process: Implications for higher education (ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 9). Washington, DC: Association for the Study of Higher Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 259 692)

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