What Does the Future Hold for Higher Education?
One of the best aspects of being the president of WICHE is having the opportunity to travel around the region and talk to people, hearing about their priorities, successes, concerns, and just generally what’s on their mind. One thing that many people seem to be wondering is what does that future hold for higher education? Over the last couple of months, I’ve had the pleasure of listening to Dr. Bryan Alexander (twice), a futurist who digs deep into data to get glimpses into the answer to this question. Other folks come at this question from various perspectives, but time and time again, people keep trying to peek around the corner about what’s to come. And there’s a lot to see.
We know from WICHE’s own data that demographics are shifting, and they will continue to do so. While there is anticipated growth in student populations in the West and in the South, the Midwest and the Northeast are already facing significant challenges as their student populations are declining. Technology is changing our classrooms in new and exciting ways through tools like adaptive learning, and WICHE is excited to be part of this transformation. Specifically, WCET serves as the intermediary for the Every Learner Everywhere Network that is working to strengthen digital learning in postsecondary institutions with a particular focus on improved outcomes for vulnerable populations. But technology also impacts how higher education does business. It helps us become more efficient and allows us to see high-level data trends we might not have otherwise seen. And, today we can even dial in on early indicators of whether a student is likely to succeed in a course so that we can intervene in appropriate ways.
And, our attitudes are evolving as well. While it seems that the public’s attitudes may be drifting more toward a politicized view of higher education in ways we have not seen in recent memory, we are also seeing an expansion of how we recognize learning. Higher education is increasingly willing to recognize all types of learning, regardless of how it was obtained. With efforts like WICHE’s Interstate Passport® Network, this new era of recognizing competency as opposed to seat time has great promise for increasing postsecondary attainment, addressing affordability, and reducing postsecondary attainment gaps. And importantly, it can change people’s lives for the better by being a pathway to economic advancement.
So, while we certainly have our challenges ahead of us in higher education, as we peek around the corner about what the future holds, I am hopeful that higher education will be proactive, and not reactive, lead and not be led, and learn our history so that we can be smartly set our course for a successful future.