There are challenges specific to VCU that compel us to reposition the university’s academic enterprise. The One VCU Repositioning Task Force being assembled for that work, however, must go further than meeting just our current needs; they must position VCU to thrive amidst the circumstances threatening America’s entire system of higher education. Three factors, occurring simultaneously, are creating a “Perfect Storm” for postsecondary education.

The first is the demographic cliff that we are approaching. Thanks to declining birth rates, beginning in 2025, there will simply be fewer individuals around who are in the typical college age of 18-24. This will intensify the competition among colleges and universities. 

This may be a silver lining for VCU. That shrinking applicant pool will be more ethnically diverse and more populated by those who are first-generation students. Those are VCU students. We know them. We serve them. And we can leverage our experience meeting their needs.

Second, traditional colleges and universities no longer hold a monopoly on higher education. Employers, big and small, are competing in that space. They offer their own training programs that include their own credentials – and they promote the connection between their programs and career opportunities. 

Moreover, an increasing number of employers, including the Commonwealth of Virignia and states across America, are removing the requirement of a college degree as a prerequisite for thousands of job openings. It’s not hard to understand that families considering these options through the lens of their stressed household budget, ask hard questions about the return on investment offered by a traditional baccalaureate degree.

And third, the relentless and accelerating evolution of technology is poised to disrupt every part of society, including higher education. Artificial Intelligence is ready to join a long-list of game-changing technologies like the printing press, the internal combustion engine, and the smartphone that serve as points of demarcation in the human experience.

Together, those “Perfect Storm” elements pose an ultimatum to every college and university: Change or be changed.

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