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The Changing Landscape: Trends That Will Fundamentally Transform the Higher Education Institution

The EvoLLLution | The Changing Landscape: Trends That Will Fundamentally Transform the Higher Education Institution
The role and operation of higher education institutions is transforming as colleges and universities evolve from being the center of knowledge dissemination to supporters of students’ education.

For quite a few years, I have been convinced that higher education in the U.S. is in a precarious position. That is because it costs far too much for the value many students get from their college courses and experience.

Students and taxpayers have put up with that until rather recently. Most schools have been able to coast on their reputations (or at least the general notion that college does great things for students’ skills and knowledge), and families gritted their teeth and bore the expense (often borrowing heavily) because there didn’t seem to be any alternative.

All of that is changing.

First of all, the recent turmoil over microscopic incidents or even hoaxes on campuses across the country have many people looking askance at the college “brand.” The claim that students will flourish in an environment conducive to learning has taken a serious hit. Many alums will think twice about donating and parents will think hard about the old automatic “send the kids to college” idea.

The erosion of support for traditional higher education will accelerate trends already at work. Here are the most important ones.

We will see more and more use of online education. Despite widespread opposition from the higher education establishment, online courses have become good and popular enough that this baby can no longer be strangled in its crib. People will read books like Kevin Carey’s The End of College and want to find out what the MOOC world is about.

We will also see the unbundling of the old college degree, which put the school in charge of deciding what would be the elements that made up a student’s education. Increasingly, we will see what Stuart Butler of Brookings calls the “general contractor” model of college. The contractor helps the student assemble the best collection of courses (and perhaps certificates and “badges”) from various schools.

Students will therefore be able to customize their learning, not just take whatever is offered by one college. In the heightened competition for students, really excellent courses and professors will thrive, while many weak ones will go begging.

Another change will be a move away from “seat time” and towards performance. Instead of spending lots of time and money to earn a grade (often questionable in its reliability), many students will gravitate toward programs that certify their competence in subjects no matter how long it took them to master the material. And that will enable ambitious students to complete some, perhaps even much of their “college” work while still in high school.

Finally, we will see more and more integration between education and life. Instead of the old, sharp division between getting your education (usually ages 5 through 22) and then your working life, the new educational world will allow people to blend education and work more. Teenagers will be able to begin earning and older people will more easily be able to improve their skills or their minds through the exploding number of programs that will be available online, at little cost.

Summing up, Americans are searching for more effective and less costly alternatives to college as we’ve known it, just at the time when technological advances and market competition are giving them many new options. That combination is certain to bring about accelerating change in 2016 and beyond.

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