As the threat of MOOCs and for-profit education wanes, so does the sense of urgency that drives innovation.
However, anyone who thinks that a decade of higher education will look just as much as it does today is dead wrong. A series of trends that are already well advanced that means the end of one era and the beginning of another:
Higher education starts earlier than ever, as students earn earlier college / dual degrees and AP credits.
Students accumulate more and more credits from multiple institutions.
Introductory grade survey courses lose enrollment, and, as they do, the cross-subsidies that helped the upper division support courses decline. In the humanities, loss of introductory course enrollment contributes to a decrease in the number of majors.
More students gain learning experiences outside of a college or university – in the military or from a MOOC or a coding academy or a corporate training program.
The student body itself is changing as the student mix includes more first-generation students, more low-income students, more students with uneven academic preparation, and more students working full-time.
The demands of the job market, too, are changing, as a volatile uncertain economy needs more STEM graduates and employees with advanced communication skills and high levels of quantitative literacy.
These developments have profound revenue consequences, as demands for more robust student services and mandated administrative responsibilities also increase. There are palliatives. Institutions aggressively persecute international students. Many schools are rapidly expanding their master’s degree offerings online.
The more prestigious, wealthier institutions are better positioned to adapt to changing circumstances by expanding development efforts, increasing funded research, and leveraging their brand. Most institutions, on the contrary, face serious challenges in their attempt to exploit new sources of income.
Only a handful of institutions have adopted strategies that are making a fundamental difference in their business models.
Some – including Arizona State University, Georgia Tech, and southern New Hampshire – have developed partnerships with successful companies to provide training or degrees.
Meanwhile, high-tech, for-profit companies like Udacity, Udemy, and LinkedIn are about to grab the market / low-key quick career skills, a “middle ground” market that higher education has failed to reach very effectively. .
Meanwhile, the major MOOC providers – Coursera and edx – have adopted a defined, but relatively circumscribed, role: Offering open learning for ambitious high school students and recreational students, and, as with Open Courses, for teachers. They are looking to educate themselves or to locate free materials.
Clearly, new educational models are needed. These models have to be:
More results and student success were concentrated.
More affordable and accessible.
Better aligned with the needs of the workplace and the complexity of many students’ lives.
More data driven.
In addition, these models must:
Begin in high school and middle school and even spread over a lifetime.
Offer a more personalized education, with a variable rate of credit to previous training, and just-in-time remediation.
If institutions are to adapt to changing circumstances, they will have to:
Outside the Box
Is it bad for students to start their college career in high school? Not if high school courses are closely aligned with college expectations. Therefore, it is essential that colleges work hand-in-hand with schools to help design educational experiences, activities, and assessments that align well with university standards. The time has come to close the gap between the century of secondary and post-secondary education.
Collaborative curriculum design, block scheduling, successful coaches, peer tutoring, curriculum optimization, credit for prior learning, rather than treating these as threats, each of these innovations can be seen as a way to promote student success. The current model is not working well for the roughly 40 percent of college students who never graduate. When so many students miss the finish line, the problem is ours, not just theirs. Rethinking Return on Investment Timely completion is not only valuable to students; that has a tangible economic benefit to the institution that confers degree. In public institutions, Upper division students typically rate higher funding formulas. Careful costing repeatedly shows that successful coaches pay for themselves. The same is true for the grouping of instructional materials in the enrollment.
Reconocer que la escala no es un Four-Letter Word
Scale education does not have to mean a totally depersonalized educational experience – just as large lectures too often cannot provide “regular and substantial interaction” between a student and an instructor. What matters, of course, is the amount and timeliness of feedback students receive and the level of interaction with peers and teachers, instructional assistants, and other instructional facilitators and subject matter experts. Peer tutoring, automated feedback, breakout groups, and various collaborative activities, including team learning, can all help personalize the learning experience even in large courses.
Embracing new audiences
It’s easy to obsess over threats to the future of higher education, but in reality the opportunities have never been greater. Higher education could seek to bridge the gap between college and high school, better serve the needs of graduates and returning adults, reaching globally for international audiences, and provide continuing education that is tailored well to the needs and schedules of the professionals who work. But only those institutions that are agile, adaptable and entrepreneurial will succeed in taking advantage of those opportunities.
Steven Mintz is Executive Director of the University of Texas Transformational Learning System institute and Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin.