Since 2005, Chicago’s Grant Park has played host to Lollapalooza. This Midwest music festival, founded by Jane’s Addiction singer Perry Farrell, unites a spectrum of people across all genres of music. Lolla, as it is affectionately called, is a 3-day concert offering 300,000 music-lovers an opportunity every year to experience an eclectic mix of rising stars, legends, and flavors-of-the-week.
In 2015, Metallica headlined the Samsung Galaxy stage. Over the years, their music has been labeled heavy metal, speed metal, and thrash metal, but whatever you choose to call it and whether or not you’re a fan, their artistry is undeniable. Metallica has been writing songs, playing music on their own terms, and living their dream for the past 37 years and they are going strong.
While it may be described as a Cinderella story of an unknown teenage band making noise then becoming rock icons, Metallica has faced its share of challenges in a volatile marketplace. Not many people think of a band as a business, but that’s exactly what it is. The same drive, passion, and leadership necessary to make a business successful are the same characteristics needed to withstand music trends and fickle fans.
Metallica experienced band-threatening challenges along the way, the devastating loss of Cliff Burton, the Napster suit, and the potential band-breakup following Jason Newsted’s departure. They worked hard to make music that mattered while growing as individuals. They didn’t settle for the status quo. They allowed their convictions to drive their creativity. They weren’t afraid to be different and weren’t discouraged by traditionalists. Through it all Metallica thrived.
The music industry is not alone in its volatility. Higher education is experiencing tumultuous and chaotic times. Traditionalists are resisting innovation, yet, students are still unprepared to thrive in a changing world. Politicians are debating and revising regulations in an effort to reform education, meanwhile, institutions are struggling to understand this shifting student population and to offer solutions that meet their needs.
- Master of Puppets: After the departure of Jason Newsted, attributed to long-standing issues and health related matters, Metallica took a hard look into their band culture. They realized that their commercial success was no longer driving their professional happiness. It was time for them to “face their music” and determine the band’s future relevance within the music industry.
Somewhere in the last 50 years, higher education has lost focus on its ability to adapt to meet students’ needs. We’ve assumed that the global stature of higher education would continue and increase; however, in our assumption we failed to analyze our shortcomings. In an ever-changing world, higher education needs to provide academic offerings that are less focused on seat-time and memorization and more focused on flexibility and competency allowing students the freedom to learn and fail in a supportive environment.
- Wherever I May Roam: As part of its success, Metallica did not limit themselves to just their U.S. fan base. Over the years, they have continued to win over new fans by ignoring cultural boundaries and touring internationally. Metallica continued to grow its fan base and make music that is identifiable for people from all walks of life.
Technology provides a way for higher education to deliver customized learning that is accessible for a growing global population. Students can earn an ivy-league education in a small, rural village just the same as on American soil. While there are many institutions paving the way for students to achieve their educational dreams, regulations and traditions continue to create hurdles that slow innovation. In order to compete, regulatory agencies need to provide a framework that institutions can use to assure continued quality while delivering innovative learning options.
- The Struggle Within: Before Metallica could continue as a band, there came a point when they needed to confront their demons. They needed to embark on a journey of self-discovery to assess their needs as individuals and as artists. They had to work on themselves before they could continue to create music that would connect with others.
Higher education is experiencing a similar internal struggle. The traditions of the past seem to conflict with the needs of the future. The old-University elitism is disappearing in favor of accessibility for the masses. Rigid regulations, expensive textbooks, and high tuition costs are no longer viewed as a badge of honor, but as a barrier to better opportunities. Before higher education can begin to meet the needs of the future, it needs to confront the traditions of the past that are crippling its ability to implement solutions for the 21st century learner.
Higher education is faced with a choice, to thrive in an unpredictable world or to crumble into chaos allowing external pressures to drive change. Predictability and stability leads to mediocrity. Higher education is being faced with an opportunity disguised as a challenge, to look beyond what was and see what is possible. Relevance can never be taken for granted and needs to be earned every day.
“…open mind for a different view, and nothing else matters.” ~ Metallica
How is your institution thriving during this volatile time?