Undeniably, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended everyone’s life. There is no one on the planet who has not been touched by it, whether by contracting the virus itself or just by the unprecedented lifestyle changes brought about by more stringent health and safety protocols. The pandemic has defined not only the idea of the workplace, but that of work itself. White-collar work is no longer predominantly performed in office buildings with cubicle farms. Now, such work is mainly being conducted remotely, and, unsurprisingly, in all but a few sectors, business has thrived. What does this mean for the next generation of developing talent? What kinds of skills and experiences will they need to flourish in this new world? And, what role will higher education play?
To be sure, these are some pretty heady questions, but we are at a point at which we can make some educated (no pun intended) assumptions about the future of higher education. Here are some things to consider.
Online education has been around for a few decades now, but many traditional brick-and-mortar schools have been slow to embrace it. This will change as student demands and expectations change. To attract students of all ages and experience levels, 82% of higher education institutions say they plan to expand their online programs over the next two years.
Between the exorbitant cost of higher education, coupled with the impending implosion of student loan debt, fewer students are opting for college than in previous years. They are instead pursuing vocational or technical training.
Most colleges and universities have been focused almost exclusively on narrow criteria and they are obsessed with their rankings. This will no longer be enough. As the student population declines, competition will become more and more fierce. Universities will have to work hard to compel students to enroll in theirs versus another.
We know that in the corporate world DEI is a very hot topic right now and is extremely important to any company that wishes to remain competitive. The same is true for institutions of higher education.
I am sure you’ve seen the ads for entry-level jobs that require 2-5 years of experience. While this is absurd, it is also the way things are. While I do not believe that everyone should be a STEM or business major, I DO believe that everyone should do some type of undergraduate internship to gain some practical experience in fields in which they are interested. Colleges should not be sending them out without some hands-on skills and experience.
Affordability poses a real and serious threat to the traditional tuition/fee-based revenue model. When confronted with affordability and the prospect of student loans, some opt-out of four-year degrees altogether. These institutions must consider new ways to operate that do not involve the unsustainable practice of constantly raising tuition.
Higher education leaders face complex challenges as they navigate the pandemic, along with demographic and technological changes. While these may seem daunting, this is not the first time (nor will it be the last), that the field has been forced to adapt. That change may be slow in coming, but it is coming nonetheless.