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Celebrating 50 Years at CAEL with Some Predictions for the Future

The value of higher education has been questioned in the last few years, especially as tuition has skyrocketed, but its future lies in creating concrete career pathways for students, collaborating broadly and recognizing learning to provide value.

The new year brings new changes, resolutions and even predictions. That’s true every January, but 2024 is going to be a truly special year at CAEL. It marks our 50th anniversary. To celebrate, we’ll be reflecting on how far we’ve come. Did you know there were ten founding CAEL members and that today our network includes over 5,000 individual members from 500+ institutions and organizations? Here’s another fact about 1974: the average tuition and fees at a four-year institution came out to $1,008 ($328 for a two-year institution). [1] Even if we convert those figures to 2023 dollars, they only total about $6,192 and $2,015, respectively [2].

We’re proud of our pioneering work around credit for prior learning and other strategies for increasing equitable access to postsecondary education and training, but the increase in cost and the decrease in the shelf life of skills make our mission more important today than it was when we founded CAEL. That’s why we’re making every celebration of the past 50 years at CAEL an occasion to focus on how we can increase our impact in the next 50.

On that note, I recently assumed the role of chief of staff at CAEL. One of the things I enjoy about this position is the regular dialogue I have with thought leaders throughout CAEL. As I reflected on the start of a new year and a new half-century at CAEL, I asked my colleagues to share some predictions for postsecondary education and training, offering some interesting perspectives that help set the stage for reflection, celebration and most importantly the work that awaits us in 2024 and beyond. I hope you enjoy them, and I thank you for being a part of CAEL’s past and future success.


Work-Based Learning

Improvements to portability, transparency and interoperability will establish microcredentials as the currency of lifelong learning. Supplementing—not supplanting—traditional degrees, microcredentials will create more links between educators and employers as individuals continuously update their skills and stay relevant in evolving job markets.

Nontraditional apprenticeship careers will become the new tradition, as awareness of their ability to close equity gaps, solve labor shortages, lower education costs, secure industry-relevant skills and advance careers grows.

Artificial Intelligence

Making predictions about technology and education is tricky at best, but considering the possible futures of AI in education may help educators develop a future-oriented mindset while helping students choose the right college, learn more efficiently, graduate on time and enter the job market better prepared for the future.

AI will amp up personalized pathway guidance for learners and workers. AI-powered competency and interest assessments will democratize the ability to translate seemingly infinite information into individualized education-employment roadmaps.

Credit for Prior Learning and Lifelong Learning

Increased use of credit for prior learning and short-term credentials along with student-friendly transfer policies will give rise to an unbundling of higher education: Savvy students will be able to mix and match credentials from different institutions and online platforms, tailoring their education to individual career goals and minimizing debt.

CPL crosswalks will help employers and educators become more proactive about prior learning. By analyzing on-the-job training and matching learning outcomes with postsecondary programs, CPL can be made more accessible to learners and workers, substantially scaling its ability to boost completion while saving time and money.

Much like health insurance, education benefits will be regarded as an essential component of total compensation, solidifying lifelong learning as part of the workplace culture.

Essential Skills

More employers and educators will recognize that closing soft skills gaps is also essential to a healthy workforce, spurring more dialogue about how education, training and assessment programs can develop and measure skills like creativity, communication, collaboration and adaptability.

Essential skills will help workers upgrade from reskilling to upskilling. While focusing on growth occupations will remain important, integrating essential and transferable skills like critical thinking, problem-solving and digital literacy will make workers less vulnerable to starting over in future job transformations.

Education-Employment Pathways

Accelerating change will foster partnerships among industry, workforce boards, educators and trainers dedicated to developing agile, microtargeted, talent pipelines that can help workers and employers succeed even as the shelf life of some skills dwindles.

Data and Analysis

Better tracking and accountability for labor market outcomes associated with colleges and programs will shift attention away from the cost of education and training to its net return on investment.

If you have other predictions you’d like to discuss, please reach out on our website at