Schools are constantly trying to peer into the future, plan for change, and stay one step ahead of (or at least not too far behind) the next big thing – whatever that may be. Wise leaders know that schools, programs, and plans need to be re-invented every so often.

Easy to say, hard to do. And sometimes a well-intentioned effort fails. What do the folks involved in a failed project learn from their experience, and how can others benefit from that hard-earned knowledge?

Project 2021 at the University of Texas at Austin is one such story, and those involved have very graciously shared what happened when they attempted to implement an ambitious effort to redesign undergraduate education. The story is detailed in an article by Lindsay Ellis in The Chronicle of Higher Education.  

The project was launched in 2016 with bold fanfare: “Move over, Enterprise. UT has launched a futuristic five-year mission of its own. Project 2021 will explore new technologies, seek out better ways of teaching and learning, and boldly go where no university has gone before in the development of next-generation undergraduate programs.” But it soon ran into problems. The article goes into detail, but some of the key reasons for the significant difficulties encountered by Project 2021 leaders include:

  • Lack of time and resources.

  • Lack of buy-in from segments of the university.

  • Lack of clarity about goals and purpose.

  • Not enough knowledge about how changes in one part of the system affect other parts.

When your school plans for change, don’t read only the stories of inspiring success. You can learn a lot from initiatives that end with most of the participants sadder but wiser, and brave enough to share their stories.