Demand for Change in Higher Education

By: Summer Burlage

The future of higher education is a continually moving target and it has entered into a period of transition. Through its history, higher education has evolved minimally, but has thrived on small changes. Today, many innovations are forcing higher education administrators to accept the reality that higher education is on a steep cliff of major transformation. Due to this change, it has become increasingly important to think about what the industry may look like in 3 years, 5 years, 10 years and beyond.

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Throughout my post, I will explore some of the current issues facing higher education and offer predictions for the future. While this post cannot cover all issues, I will highlight a few critical issues that are placing pressure on higher education in the United States. Additionally, I will speak about where I see higher education going and how these issues will impact the various sectors. The issues colleges and universities are face are complex, but the changes that will occur in higher education are bound to happen sooner than later.

Issues in Higher Education

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Decreased public funding of higher education institutions and imminent financial crisis are just two of the many issues to consider in colleges and universities. It is prevalent higher education institutions are facing many concerns. Colleges have been slow to change; meanwhile, the priorities of the American society are changing rapidly in comparison to other times throughout history. In addition, the population of the United States is undergoing an enormous shift in demographics. Employers across the country are motivated to find prepared workers for the new economy. They want to have confidence that higher education institutions are meeting the needs of employers, but this has been called into question. As stated in a Forbes article, “… the value of a college degree as a device to a signal knowledge, intelligence, discipline, ambition and integrity is fraying; jeopardizing the economic advantage of a university education.”

For a period of time now, faculty and administrators have had conversations about how students learn. What was gathered is that students best way of learning is not by sitting in arranged rows and listening to a professor give a lecture but changing the education paradigm is more difficult than it may seem. However, the need for changing this pedagogy is imperative for Generation Z (students who are about to start college). Gen Z students are used to multitasking and are familiar with the Internet as they have been using it nearly their entire lives; therefore, listening to a professor give a 60–90-minute lecture will not hold their attention or be effective.

A few other issues that are arising in colleges and need to be addressed are:

· Changing the way in which students learn (more technology)

· Responding to student demands

· Incorporating new learning styles (competency-based learning)

· Changing the way partnerships work with high schools

· How institutions fundraise

Higher education is currently dealing with some of the most significant challenges in history. Parents and elected officials are not impressed by the substantial increase in the cost to attend college. The perceived value of gaining is a college degree is under scrutiny with many students and parents believing it is not worth the investment, despite of all the evidence to the contrary.

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I will begin to explore some of these issues more in depth in an effort to understand them. I also want to consider how these issues will continue to evolve and affect colleges. For years futurists have stated that higher education must change or put itself at risk. The convergence of these issues may make such predictions a reality. Given research, numerous publications and observations, one can make predictions to the overall direction that universities and colleges are heading for the future. While there are many challenges to be faced by higher education, it has become imperative to be prepared and up to speed because change is coming. Although change is often difficult on college campuses, the colleges that address these challenges and look for new innovative ways to speak to them, will thrive.

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Lectures will Die: More Technology

As technology is growing at a rapid pace, the dependence on lecture will die and there will be a greater importance on technology in the classroom setting, in order to address learning style of students. Technology is pervasive, especially in the lives of iGen, or GenZ. These students are incredibly reliant on technology as it is a major part of their daily lives. An overlay to a lecture will no longer be a successful delivery of education. Colleges and universities that strive to be successful will have to find a way to integrate technology as a significant part of delivery of education. This does not mean all students will be distant learners, by logging onto classes they never physically step foot into. However, many students today (including myself) wonder why they sit in a classroom setting and listen to a lecture when they can look up information in a matter of seconds. Students will demand active learning strategies that incorporate the technology they have at the tip of their fingers, on a college campus. Kevin Carey predicts in his article, “It’s the End of College as We Know It” that future classes will be an experience that merges intermingling of technology while in the traditional face-to- face environment. In the article, Carey claims that people will still want to attend higher education and learn with others; however, the learning process must change if colleges want to meet the needs of their students.

In the near future, higher education will no longer have rows facing the front of the room for a professor to speak about the course material for the day. Rather, the classroom will have furniture for students to group and regroup depending on the subject material for the course. Additionally, rooms will be set up with many outlets and covered with wireless ability for the multiple devices’ students bring to class as tools to conduct research and solve problems. This offered classroom approach will allow and encourage students to apply knowledge, not just simply regurgitate it. This style of education will permit students and parents to see greater value in education systems — charging students thousands and thousands of dollars to provide them with skills they could learn from a YouTube video or a Khan Academy lesson is not going to be a viable long-term financial model.

Another feature that will soon enter the classroom is virtual reality (VR) and it will grow in its usefulness and utilization as a learning tool.

There are three types of virtual reality:

1. Augmented reality — Deals with digital elements that are brought into the real world, but people are fully aware of the space around them.

2. True virtual reality- Places the user inside a digital world with devices that immerse the user into an experience.

3. Mixed reality (hybrid reality)- Essentially combines real and virtual worlds to produce a new environment and visualizations where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time.

Virtual reality is supported by tech companies like Microsoft as they believe in the use for educational function and initiatives. Essentially, VR can create varied realities by using a smartphone, an application, and a pair of goggles. Already, many people are using VR to play games and watch videos but why is it not implemented it into higher education? The applications are becoming easier to use and professors will need to adopt them into their classroom. By doing so, this will help to hold the attention of students who have experienced digital games and have been exposed to technology for their entire lives.

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Respond to Student Demand

In the past, higher education institutions have changed their operations minimally to meet student or local demands, but it will change as the struggle for enrollment becomes more prevalent. The student market is becoming increasingly more competitive, so in order to respond to shifts in a quicker way, colleges are being forced to respond to market transitions. A way colleges and universities are dealing with this shift is by entering marketing and altering systems to attract and retain more students. For example, community colleges (CC) are beginning to enter the market to offer four-year degrees. Approximately 90 community colleges are offering about 900 baccalaureate programs to students in 19 different states. Often bachelor’s degrees are niche markets and typically focus on precise disciplines that need a workforce — often technology or healthcare (nursing). In contrast, a few advocates of the movement cited many students cannot leave current jobs to travel to a university. Furthermore, community colleges that offer bachelor’s degrees serve a market of students who are unable to get into a four-year institution. Community colleges allow for a more diverse student population than four-year institutions — for instance, CC permits people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to attain a four-year degree at a lower cost. This trend will gradually begin to grow across the country.

Universities will soon offer fast-track degree programs in order to respond to students who want/need a job while minimizing their education debt. For example, Purdue University set up a program called “Degree in 3” which permits students to attend summer courses, transfer credits, carry a larger course load and graduate from college within a three-year span. Researchers predict an estimated $20,000 will be saved by students in tuition costs. Not only does this program save students thousands of dollars, it allows them to join the workforce quicker.

Colleges will incorporate more data analytics to assure students who come to their institution are successful and graduate on-time. Data analytics helps to predict students who will struggle in college and it allows advisors to intervene earlier in the students’ education to support their success. This prediction may include requiring a summer bridge program, regular advisory meetings and other support systems. Colleges and universities will use more data to proactively and somewhat invasively support students.

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Competency-Based Education

Competency-Based Education (CBE) will become more prevalent within higher education, specifically for returning adult students. Many accredited organizations and elected officials have steered institutions to focus on outcomes. An outcome focuses on what a student will be able to demonstrate or do at the end of their course or program. These organizations and officials feel rather than focusing on the process of education (how many hours are in the course, how many courses are in the program, etc.) to emphasize on skills gained, outcome stresses, and student application to real-world issues. Currently, higher education systems such as financial aid and program approval are not up to speed on measuring outcomes rather than the process. In the future, outcomes will trump the process and will create a massive change.

By incorporating CBE, students will demonstrate outcomes of a course in order to receive credit. CBE is worthwhile as students tend to pay a flat fee per semester and are allowed to move through a program at their desired speed. Many researchers predict this method will become normalized as apart of college offerings in the near future with the main focus being on their skills. Competency- Based Education will become a focal point in higher education as it allows students to take online training models, learn materials through online content and/or books, or by attending seminars. Higher education institutions need to move towards CBE before for-profit organizations do because they will capture that market and colleges will not have an easy time getting it back.

High School — College Partnership

Institutions will need to develop more creative programs to attract high school (HS) student to their college or university while they are still enrolled in secondary education. Traditional aged college student demographic is decreasing which is forcing institutions to explore new markets. Within these markets are non-traditional students (over 25), underserved populations, graduates (those who have earned an undergraduate degree), and current high school students. As high school programs are continuing to grow, it is likely that community colleges around the country will construct or renovate high school buildings on their campuses in order to serve this market.

Though high school and college partnerships are not a new thing, there is an increasing emphasis on colleges having strong partnerships with HS. This is due to growing concerns relating to college enrollment, the overall cost to attend college, and providing a local workforce. Such partnerships are viewed in a few formats such as early college programs on campus, concurrent enrollment in the HS, and Smart Scholars. Each program sticks to distinct goals, but each are aware of HS students being competent enough to handle a college-level work load; and, by providing them with a head start in college while balancing HS, students are more likely to attend college upon graduation.

College programs that utilize early start typically go half or full day. HS students do the morning at their HS and the afternoon on a college campus. Students who are involved in this program incur tuition costs (full or at a reduced rate depending on the institution and state) and attend courses with other college students. Often courses taken on a college campus would also be counted towards HS credit.

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The concurrent enrollment program allows students to remain at their HS, but college faculty and HS teachers will coordinate curriculum to ensure the course meets the rigor of a college class. Though these courses are often taught by high school teachers, they have help along the way to meet standards and it provides duel credit (both college and HS). Students who complete a course will demonstrate similar learning outcomes as students on a college campus. Additionally, HS students are offered a reduced tuition or college credit fee. While I was in high school, I was enrolled in several community college courses, I remained at my high school and was taught by a HS teacher. Though the college courses offered were minimal, it allowed me to go into higher education with college credit. On top of the other benefits, my tuition was waved because of the state I lived in. The only downfall is often times credit will not be transferred depending on the college one chooses to attend. Concurrent enrollment programs will be promoted more as it allows students a cheaper way to gain a head start.

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Smart Scholars is a program funded by the Gates Foundation for high schools and colleges across the United States. This program targets students who are looked upon as college capable but need an extra boost. Students would participate in one or two free concurrent enrollment classes freshman year (9th grade), along with HS required courses. As the student progresses in school, he/she would increase the number of college courses as well. In the students junior and senior year of HS, they will spend more of their time on a college campus and be enrolled in more college courses. Through this program, students receive college credit, high school credit and are often provided targeted student support services throughout their Smart Scholar experience.

Through partnerships, high schools and colleges will become more creative and will bring HS students from various backgrounds of college campuses. This will require both colleges and high schools to think about student support services needed, addressing issues around activities usually done with adult students (over 18) such as housing, overnight trips, clubs, etc. The partnership will also more than likely lead to buildings specific for high school students on college campuses, particularly community college campuses. The curriculum around this setup will be coordinated to provide the student with a smooth transition between two organizations.

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Public funding for higher education will continue to fall and/or change. Due to the 2008 recession, funding for education was never completely recovered, specifically for the public higher education sector. Demand for public money has drastically increased and as the country deals with poverty, social, and healthcare issues. The competition for public dollars will leave higher education low on the priority list. However, private colleges like Harvard and Princeton have utilized fundraising. Their efforts have accumulated donations valued in the billions of dollars. Public sector colleges have participated in fundraising, but they do not compare to the level of private colleges. Fundraising for public sector colleges has proven to be a challenge as potential donors believe their tax dollars are already being put towards campuses. Public colleges and universities will need to demonstrate need for private dollars on their campuses because it will provide funding for scholarships, pilot and capital projects. Scholarships will be imperative as colleges address their need of a less wealthy student population. Pilot projects will offer a new approach to student retention and capital projects could be something as simple as new equipment and/or buildings.

Numerous college presidents have expressed majority of their time is devoted to fundraising for private contributions and interactions with elected officials for public money to support their institutions. It is prevalent that their main focus of academics or daily operations has decreased due to demands to secure funding. Unfortunately, this is just the beginning of a continually increasing trend. Many private college presidents host dinners or parties in their homes or on campus for potential donors; meanwhile, public college presidents host no such events. In order to address a growing need for funding, all college presidents need to host similar events in order to fundraise and expand their friend network for their institutions.

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Final Thoughts

To wrap up my thoughts, the United States higher education is viewed as the best in the world. It has proven to be durable through many years of change and social disturbance.

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However, today, colleges and universities are facing challenges with economic changes, shifting values, diverse demographics, etc. Colleges and universities need to focus their attention on searching for opportunities rather than hope challenges will not catch them. Colleges and universities need to imagine a future where they are able to attract students to their institutions and meet their demanding needs. Innovation and thoroughly understanding students’ needs will be a huge factor in the success of any institution. Institutions who are able to adopt change will succeed and thrive. United States higher education will continue to be viewed as the best as long as higher education leaders look to the future.

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