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Thinking Ahead to What Higher Education Will Be

As we emerge from the pandemic, higher education needs to decide which traditional practices it wants to retain and which ones learned for the pandemic to adopt; the future of higher ed is more uncertain yet ripe with opportunity.

I catch myself thinking about what is next for higher education more now than ever before. The pandemic has so many of us in higher education focused on enrollment numbers, we tend to not think about the overall academics as we should. 

What is next for higher education? Who will be the judge? The students? Industry? Sean Gallagher’s book mentions that we need to tie our programs to industry. Not a bad idea at all. The degree programs that worked 10 to 15 years ago might not necessarily work today. Will the general liberal arts degrees across the board that help to develop good writers, good communicators and critical thinkers do the trick? Or, do we need more specialized and focused programs? 

With all this said and the traditional-age student populations dwindling, where does higher ed turn for students? Should the non-traditional learner be the focus? This focus may open the door for academic programs, prior learning assessment and degree completion programs. I remember back in the late 90s and early 2000s when prior learning assessment and degree completion programs did well. Are you going back to the future? 

Will online learning growth continue to rise, or has it hit its peak? Has the market been saturated with institutions providing online academic programs? 

It seems the degree sector that continues to rise is graduate degree programs. My daily work is in graduate studies, where I can say things remain robust. The pandemic did not slow things down. Will this remain the same post pandemic? Will the graduate degree remain popular, or will it shift to graduate certificates or other types of graduate credentials. I just saw Paul Leblanc of SNHU the other day, and he said that credentials need to be stackable. 

All that I have mentioned attributes to enrollments. However, there needs to be a focus that will work. Each institution is different. What will work at each institution must also fit their mission and strategy for it to work. You must also get buy-in, and shared governance must come it to play. 

Lastly, something to consider: Is the academic degree a necessity any longer? With so many credentials out there, from EdX and Coursera, do students need the actual degree to succeed, or can they do so with a credential like badges or microcredentials?

What should higher education do now? The environment is constantly in flux. Should we continue to do what we have always done, or should we go in a different direction? It will be very interesting to see how things pan out for higher education over the next five years. The pandemic presented some big challenges, but now I can see how the pandemic has brought about some opportunities as well. 

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