Social commentators long ago anticipated a trend toward applied education and away from traditional academic degrees. Their predictions prove prophetic as college enrollment numbers stagnate or decline, “with an annual growth of only 0.4 percent in enrollment for all public and private universities from 2011 through 2013, down from an annual growth of 3.6 percent from 1990 through 2010.”
At the same time, “career-focused learning is back,” and non-traditional and alternative programs, online programs, and niche-based and certificate programs continue to grow.
Several factors generated this shift, including an economy that made it even more difficult for families to support a “traditional” college education and a job market that made people question if it was as critically important as we had always believed.
Technological advances and effective online learning possibilities, with the potential for monitoring, assessment, analytics and credentialing, play at least as significant a role. To the extent that online learning offers career preparation in a more cost-effective, democratic way, it dovetails with the economic factor to create a very different educational environment.
These factors are generating the following higher education trends and innovations, which all assume an expanding online environment and seek to provide more cost-effective options. These trends do not need to forecast a decline for academic institutions, but they do demand creative attention and a plan to integrate and benefit from them.
- Smart institutions will find mechanisms to keep college affordable while providing tangible marketplace value. “Well over half of the nonprofit private colleges failed to meet either their enrollment or revenue targets (in fall, 2014). Despite this . . . the overwhelming majority of these schools will continue to increase both tuition and discount rates next year, and even more of them will fall short of their enrollment and revenue targets.” Increasingly families look for affordable ways to give their kids the tools they need to get a job. Society has an interest in ensuring that young people can become productive citizens. Smart institutions will find an effective mechanism to remain affordable while providing documented marketplace value.
- Big data will become a key part of the higher education picture. Some commentators suggest a bonanza for software developers as academic institutions, marketers, parents and employers seek data. Others discuss the ways data mining can improve outcomes for students, providing them with a more personalized, effective learning experience.
- Universities will find ways to bring more alternative education modes into their programs (life experience, “project-based schools, classical schools, self-directed learning academics, place-based learning schools, leadership academies” and more). In a knowledge-based economy, knowledge gained through any means is useful, and people learn in different ways. This recognition will result in more types of learning experiences gaining credibility in the marketplace.
- Overall, we will see more customization and personalization of the learning experience. As young people learn to maximize the benefits of online options, and universities take advantage of this opportunity, more techniques for effective, personalized learning experiences within university programs will develop.
- Competency-based Education and Credentialing will gain significance. As competency-based and online education and credentialing become more important for employers, universities will need to revisit their own credentialing processes in order to make them more transparent and explanatory for employers. Transcripts don’t necessarily make obvious to employers what they want to know.
With the explosion in online studies and self-directed learning, one important role for universities is to teach students to develop and use critical thinking skills in the online environment: how to select credible information from a wealth of options, what to look for to confirm credibility, how and why to fact-check, and how to draw conclusions based on information.
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Another important role for universities is as educational brokers, that is, to act as coordinators and guides to students as they put together effective, affordable programs from a range of options. It is up to the universities to maintain standards of educational rigor and excellence in this environment with its changing requirements.
Finally, universities must expand their online offerings, from linking with well-made supplementary classes and tools that meet the standards of the university and the needs and requirements of their students to their own complete, online degree programs.
For information about online programs available through University of the Potomac and how you can integrate them into your preparation as a citizen of tomorrow, please contact us.