Lightning Round – The Future of Higher Education and Learning

As an administrator in a large public higher education institution, I think often about the future of work and education. I think about the students that we serve and the varied lives that they lead. I, myself, not too long ago was one of them. I did not have my first child until I was finished with my undergraduate and graduate degrees, but I know many of my friends who did. I did not have to care for an older loved one or family member while establishing my career, but I know many of my friends who did. I am now faced with providing the care for my young family and an aging mother. I cannot imagine having to complete my education and succeed at work at this particular point in my life. The intersectionality and inequality of it all, particularly for the already under resourced and marginalized is steep hill to climb.

One of the challenges for a large public institution like CUNY is making an education more convenient for non-traditional students. Students that need to work, take care of a family member, or are now returning to higher education after taking care of a family. It is ironic and almost antithetical that the very education that ends up being negotiated and postponed is the single most effective means of upward social and economic mobility. CUNY does this remarkably well.

In the articles that I have been reading to track this issue this week speaks of the physical vs. the digital divide when it comes to higher education. What does the future of higher education look like? Is it still all brick and mortar campuses, lecture halls and in-person faculty, or is it web browsers, video lectures and on-line learning assessments? Personally, I think that the future lies somewhere in-between. There has been U.S. Department of Education push for higher education institutions to make college degrees more affordable. However, Universities continue to grow horizontally or spreading out (physically), rather than virtually (digital).  The future issue with horizontal growth is the hope that it will be filled with new students. However, by U.S. Department of Labor accounts only about 70% of high school graduate in the U.S. go on to college and from an enrollment management/admissions recruitment perspective is a zero-sum game.

College and University will need to look to these non-traditional student cohorts groups; transfer, adult learners, international, graduate mid-career professionals to make up the gaps in enrollment. However, for these cohorts of students, time, and convenience is an every increasing factor in whether they end up enrolling or not. Blended or hybrid learning can be a potential solution to this problem and institutions can save on the limitations and costs associated with running a physical classroom.

On the future of work and education, Stanford University has experimented with the idea of an open loop education. Students admitted can loop in for 2 years of education, loop out to work and perhaps loop back in during their 30s, 40s or 50s to retrain and/or re-career. This education model is appealing given the uncertainty of the future of work, but this would require a shift in labor markets and employers to reevaluate credentialing and their requirements for work. MIT also experimented with micromaster programs that equated to a quarter or half of a traditional graduate degree they expected 200,000, but got 1.3 million students enrolling. My pushback here is the impact or delay in implementation on some institutions because of labor unions. Especially, as we have been reading on the importance of job stability. Another pushback is education a means to a labor end? Where is the egalitarian ideals of the benefits of an education society and democratic participation?

The other intersectional issue facing the future of work and higher education is the fact that Americans are having fewer children and if so are having them later in life. The top reasons for why are; child care is too expensive, want more time with children that they have, worried about the economy, cannot afford more children, waited because of financial instability, want more leisure time, not enough paid family leave, no paid family leave, worried about global instability, struggle with work-life balance, worried about domestic politics, met a partner too late, worried about climate change, responsible for other family care, worried about population growth, prioritized my education and career, split from my partner, partner does not want children and don’t think that I am a good parent.

It will be interesting to see if these trends hold true, what the Department of Labor statistic will look like regarding numbers of high-school graduates enrolling in college. Perhaps while we see a decline in overall numbers, there may be an uptick in the overall percentage north of 70%.

One thought on “Lightning Round – The Future of Higher Education and Learning”

  1. Aha! A fellow traveler connecting the dots between future of work and future of education. I share your impatience with the slow pace of innovation in higher education. Some of these areas we should be sure to capture for our last few weeks of focus on higher ed. But the questions you raise on service jobs and how they relate to an aging population are important ones for our discussion on “what is work.”

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