Higher education has traditionally been an environment that evolves just slightly slower than molasses runs in winter. But over the past few years, it has decidedly shed that reputation and is currently embracing all kinds of innovation. Many of the top issues in higher education today were hardly on the radar just a couple of years ago, especially as new technologies led to the emergence of new learning models and environments. We are now able to identify the major trends that are influencing discussions surrounding the future of higher education.
Here are the 5 top trends of 2013 in higher education:
1. The Shifting Value of a College Degree
In the past, getting a college education would set you up for life—it practically guaranteed you a good job and a profitable career. But today, with college tuition rising faster than prices in any other sector and student debt topping $1 trillion, many students are starting to reexamine whether a degree from a four-year institution is really worth it.
[Find a low-cost college degree program.]
Employers are also questioning what a college degree actually signifies. In a recent study of employers, more than half said it was difficult to find college graduates who were qualified for jobs, and about one-third said colleges are doing only a “poor” to “fair” job preparing students to enter the workforce. In fact, even though many employers still require degrees, they admit that the degree is primarily used as a way to filter job applicants, rather than as an indication of anything substantial.
[Is a college degree overrated?]
This mismatch between what a degree actually means (you spent four years taking classes) and what both students and employers want it to mean (you have acquired specific skills) has led education and business leaders to start thinking about what a better credential might look like. Most agree that to be meaningful, the degree of the future needs to be closely tied to a defined range of knowledge and skills. Making this connection is the goal of several new services, like digital badges and Degreed.
2. Self-directed learning
Since colleges and universities are so expensive and still not adequately preparing students to succeed in the workforce, many students are turning to various forms of self-directed learning as a way to acquire new skills. The best evidence of this trend is the staggering popularity of massive open online courses (MOOCs). According to this infographic, more than 10 million students have now taken at least one MOOC, and the results of surveys (like this one) show that most students take MOOCs to enhance their job skills or for their own personal development.
At the same time, there is increasing skepticism about the true revolutionary potential of MOOCs and their impact on higher education. With technology advancing and fields changing so quickly, self-directed lifelong learning has become the norm. Today, a postsecondary education is merely a starting point. In order to stay current and make sure they have the knowledge and skills necessary to compete, many people are using free online resources to follow their own programs for professional development.
[Read about the latest MOOC news, tips, and trends.]
3. Competency-based education
The high cost of college and the need for more skilled workers have also led to the rise of competency-based programs, which are degree programs based on the knowledge and skills students can demonstrate rather than on how long they go to school. The most popular form of competency-based education is direct assessment—you learn something, take a test to show that you have learned it, and then receive credit.
In March of this year, the US Department of Education endorsed competency-based degree programs as a way to make education more affordable. This model is also followed by some college and universities that allow students to take MOOCs for credit.
[Earn college credit for life experience.]
4. Job Skills Training
The job skills gap has led to an increased focus on skills training. Historically the business of community colleges and technical schools, specialized degree programs and professional certificates are now offered by many traditional colleges and universities. There has also been a huge boom in informal institutions offering a job skills curriculum. For example, coding boot camps like Metis and Hack Reactor have gained huge popularity because of their job placement success rates. Combining the trends of self-directed learning and job skills training, the big three MOOC providers (Coursera, edX, and Udacity) have also all recently turned their attention toward corporate and workforce training.
5. Big Data
Finally, like in every other industry, Big Data is starting to have a large impact on education. The ability to track and analyze when, where, and how students interact with online course materials will help educators design modules, courses, and programs that are better tailored to the needs of individual students. For example, teachers will be able to create adaptive digital learning environments that can pace courses based on student performance and identify students who might be at risk of failing a course. The potential uses of Big Data extend beyond the classroom into admissions, financial aid, student services, and most other aspects of higher education. This trend is still very new, but over the next year or so, we can expect to see Big Data resulting in more personalized and more effective learning experiences.
Overall, the major trends in higher education this year have been aimed at making college more accessible, more affordable, and more relevant to the needs of today’s students. Let’s hope it continues into 2014 and beyond.
Which trends would you like to see grow in 2014?