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What Does the Future Hold for State Higher Education?

By Becky Takeda-Tinker | President, Colorado State University-Global Campus
Looking to the future, state higher education institutions will be more focused on developing low-cost, workforce-focused programming and providing students with a wide range of directions in which to take their post-secondary learning.

It’s interesting to consider what state higher education will look like 50 years in the future.

Unfortunately, as one who creates strategies based on research and data, I have nothing new to share beyond what we, as educators, currently see from present-day information. However, I don’t take lightly the opportunity to provide a recap from my perspective of what is being discussed and considered.

Perhaps the summarized factors below will provoke further discussion and additional research so that we can weigh the value of possible new paradigms; or, maybe, it will spark the development of innovative ideas not yet considered. Or perhaps it will simply serve as a topic of discussion with my senior leadership team and also yours, as we continue to address market and industry dynamics that support our students’ needs.


We have left the era where students went in one door, underwent the same college experience as all others and left through another door, supposedly equipped with all that was needed to be “successful” in the future. The pace and dynamics of a technologically-driven and global marketplace require expertise at all levels and all job functions.

Therefore, customized learning experiences, with knowledge acquired via multiple delivery channels and sources, seem to be an appropriate solution to providing individuals with the different skills, knowledge and passions to meet the diversity of market needs. Additionally, if we look at today’s children, who are growing up with the ability to select a single rendition from multiple versions of the same songs, who can design their own unique sport shoes and who can immediately download just about any kind of entertainment they feel like enjoying or participating in at a particular moment, a top-down curriculum through a standardized learning schedule and modality seems unlikely to capture their attention and mindshare.

Federal funding and accreditation

Federal funding and accreditation are elements that continue to be inextricably tied together. If the government’s drive to shape our workplace readiness through education continues, and if the government has limited funds but sees an increasing need for an educated workforce, it seems logical that standardized learning outcomes measured through national assessments will become the criteria for federal funding.

The current framework for accreditation — based on credit hours and accreditor-approved delivery modality and other requirements that manage the process, but not the outcomes of education — may then no longer apply. It would also seem that federally-funded education would be focused on degrees and education that further the nation’s productivity needs, and less (or not at all) on curricula that do not address current or future workplace needs. Further, it’s safe to assume that less expensive ways of education provision (i.e., online, massive open online courses) focused on workplace education will be supported and encouraged.

So, what does this mean for today’s educators? An open-minded approach to exploration, experimentation and measured risk-taking when it comes to new techniques, processes and paradigms might be a good way to embrace the future that cannot be predicted, but can at least be prepared for. As educators who are trained in investigation and inquiry, we are accountable to our students and stakeholders to preserve the factors that make a U.S. degree so valuable and to prepare them to be effective drivers of new ventures and stable economies.

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