It is no surprise that the landscape of higher education has transformed dramatically in recent years. With the advancement of technology, the explosion of massive open online courses and internet-based learning, the line between traditional and nontraditional schools has been steadily blurring. As a result of these and other influencers there are five top stories to watch for in 2014.
- Paying for Performance
President Obama spoke late last year on his plan to promote innovation and competition in the higher education marketplace. Through this initiative, The White House sent out a call to action for colleges to award credits based on learning rather than seat time, leverage technology to redesign courses and recognize prior learning experience for academic credit.
A major trend that has already stimulated a lot of discussion is the integration of Competency Based Education into education. Intended as a national stimulant, the push applies to both nontraditional and traditional institutions. Some first movers have already begun programs, while many others are expected to follow in 2014. Other strategies for paying for performance include Prior Learning Assessments. Traditionally used for military personnel to award college credit for on-the-job training, the concept is now being expanded as a result of promoting innovation in higher education.
- Education for the Economy
Since the economic trough that the US economy experienced in 2008 and the steady growth toward a better future there has been a greater demand for job skills training across industries. Historically the nontraditional education realm was created to fill the needs of vocational trades, but now many traditional schools offer certificate and degree programs that heavily compete for the same positions.
A stronger career-focused learning perspective is backed by policymakers that stress the economic benefits of technical education for those looking to get hired in a tough labor market. The vision also unites communities as high schools, colleges and companies come together to increase opportunities for students to learn valuable marketplace skills while enhancing employee development.
- Access and Affordability
Addressing the student loan dilemma in higher education has been one of the top concerns for policymakers in recent years and for good reason. The latest report from the Institute for College Access & Success, released last month, reports that seven in 10 college seniors who graduated in 2012 had student loan debt, with an average of $29,400 for those with loans. Regionally the high-debt states mainly exist in the Northeast and Midwest, while low-debt states are generally located in the West and South.
As the affordability crisis continues with the burden of student debt reaching over $1 trillion, policymakers will put the responsibility on universities to invest in solutions rather than the public. Competency based education is one way many schools will be contributing to significantly reducing costs. These programs shorten time to graduation, provide employers with true student/employee abilities and improve quality of education. Expect more alternative solutions to exist across the industry to drive accessibility and affordability.
- Bringing the Big Data
We live in a world of endless information with technology only expanding the horizon. Although this brings clear advantages in both business and learning, it has also brought much concern to data-privacy in education. With files existing electronically rather than in paper form, security of student data including grades, contact information and disciplinary records has created skepticism.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative advocacy group, has put together a bill that would require state education boards to publically publish their data-collection activities. Although this generally applies to public districts, others may be impacted as state legislatures consider similar bills in 2014. Some nontraditional schools have already seen backlash from aggressive recruiting tactics and others are changing marketing messages based on new regulations. Expect data collection and management to continue to tighten to best secure personal information.
- Quality over Quantity
In the past, getting a college degree was practically a guarantee that you would be successful in attaining a great career. But today with all of the economic conditions across higher education and the labor force, some question the quality of attaining a degree. Some of the larger for-profit institutions have even been criticized in recent years for being “degree mills” that lack worth. A recent study of employers reveals that more than half said it was difficult to find graduates who are qualified for jobs, and about one-third colleges are doing a “poor” to “fair” job preparing students for the demands of the workplace.
Many attempts are being made to help fix this perception. In some cases assessing teacher performance is a higher priority than hiring based on academic credentials. The American Federation of Teachers believes that instructors set learning targets, not algorithms, with policymakers potentially considering such options. To close the gap of expectations for employers, education services are projected to strengthen relationships with companies to design curriculum around the skills demanded by professionals across industries.