5 predictions for the future of higher education:

1: Academic Curricula Will Become More Multi-Disciplinary

The University of Utah’s Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute will unite 412 residences with a 20,000-square-foot “garage” space for students to gather, build prototypes, and launch companies.

2: Education Leaders Will Need To Balance MOOCs and Traditional Learning

The Iowa State University Student Innovation Center is envisioned as a highly flexible, technology-rich, dynamic space that serves as a launch pad for student innovation and a landmark building to promote peer learning, students projects, and hands-on experience.

3: Student Recruitment and Retention Will Be More Important Than Ever

The University of Florida, Reitz Student Union has been driven by student’s ideas through the school’s innovative "Make It Reitz" student engagement and social media campaign.

4: Higher Education Needs To Invest in Technology

The University at Buffalo entered into an innovative partnership with Kaleida Health, resulting in a building that stacks their clinical translational research center above Kaleida’s Global Vascular Institute--moving academic medical research from the lab bench to the bedside.

5: Higher Education Will Explore New Funding Models

Another image of the University of Buffalo.


5 Bold Predictions For The Future Of Higher Education

What, where, and how will we learn?

The future of higher education is a constantly moving target.

Everything from the emergence of MOOCs to new learning styles and mounting financial and sustainability pressures are impacting the education landscape. Every day higher education leaders are developing new strategies to leverage across these developing challenges and opportunities.

The common denominator amidst all this change: students. What should they learn? How can institutions best attract them? How do you best empower their learning? How do you keep them safe? What do they value? These aren’t new questions but the answers are shifting rapidly. The questions are also becoming more critical for our educational institutions given the National Center for Education Statistics report revealing in 2012, for the first time in three decades, demographics predicted a diminishing population for college age students in the United States.

The University of Utah’s Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute will unite 412 residences with a 20,000-square-foot "garage" space for students to gather, build prototypes, and launch companies.

Here are five bold predictions for how the answers to those questions will define the future of education.

1: Academic Curricula Will Become More Multi-Disciplinary

Current models—reliant upon departmental space where curriculum is developed and fostered independent of the university at large—must change. Today’s students demand cross-disciplinary learning and thinking, particularly in science, engineering, and technology. This cross-disciplinary learning demand is manifesting itself in buildings that seek to be academies of tomorrow and entrepreneurial hubs focused on bringing business and creative minds together. Colleges and universities need to think about how these space changes serve as curriculum drivers.

Examples of this can be found in our project at the University of Utah where they are developing a transformative entrepreneurial building where students can create, live and "launch" companies all in the same space. Elsewhere, we worked with the University at Buffalo partnered with Kaleida Health to create a one-of-a-kind facility that brings their academic research center into the same building as a global vascular institute. Incubator spaces within this building extend beyond the notion of "fusion" and empower students to utilize design thinking as a means to create solutions, solve problems and make jobs not take jobs.

2: Education Leaders Will Need To Balance MOOCs and Traditional Learning

Amidst the ongoing discussion relative to online education over the past few years, it is important to remember higher education institutions don’t need to choose between online learning and traditional learning—they need to find the right balance. Recent research shows a fifth of Chief Academic Officers (CAOs) don’t feel online education is strongly represented in their institutions’ long-term strategies, even though they believe it should be. At the same time, new statistics also reveal that while distance education has been growing at a faster rate than traditional higher education ever since 2003, that rate of growth is beginning to slow.

The truth is neither education delivery model is intrinsically better than the other. Universities need to strategically balance both platforms and also think about how they support the never-ending, 24/7 nature of today’s learning that extends beyond the classroom. Institutions that begin to best leverage an appropriate balance can make better use of time in the classroom and also define tailored approaches to how the professor, student and material work together across the platforms.

The University at Buffalo entered into an innovative partnership with Kaleida Health, resulting in a building that stacks their clinical translational research center above Kaleida’s Global Vascular Institute. Credit: Tim WIlkes

3: Student Recruitment and Retention Will Be More Important Than Ever

To best recruit and retain students, universities need to evaluate how they offer a student life experience that prepares students to be healthy and dynamic people in the future. That means universities need to embrace sustainability and wellness as key components to campus life. Spelman College recently differentiated itself by diverting all of its athletic funding to create a "Wellness Revolution," focused on best promoting the health of its students.

Scores of other universities are realizing students value their life experience just as much as their academic experience. This is pushing universities to find creative ways to fund new spaces and programming for students. The key here is strategically providing students with key resources that give them more opportunity to make the most of their collegiate life experience.

4: Higher Education Needs To Invest in Technology

Today’s students aren’t just bringing their own technology devices to the classroom, they’re also bringing them to the student center, the gym and the dining hall. This increased use places greater demands on a campus IT infrastructure. Universities seeking to solve today’s challenges will need to respond with robust access and bandwidth upgrades. At the same time, institutions needs to respond to the "mobility shift" which allows educators and students to be nimble and engaged from anywhere.

Additionally, the education community needs to think about how the emergence of augmented reality devices from Google Glass to Oculus will transform campuses. These devices bring powerful questions related to how they enable students and teachers to maximize the educational experience. Moreover, all of the thinking relative to technology investments needs to also consider security—as the cyber security attack at the University of Maryland earlier this year revealed, universities need to balance empowering students with keeping them safe.

5: Higher Education Will Explore New Funding Models

The historic practice of providing funding to state institutions based on enrollment is already shifting to performance-based models. These models will redirect educational priorities and investment to help more students succeed while also redefining an institution’s responsibility to its students and its community. While the performance model discussions are more apparent for the state–funded institutions, their impact may extend further as it pertains to incubation, research and corporate support. Already, these systems are gaining momentum and leaders need to be highly involved with their build-out.

There’s no magic button to press to ensure education institutions success in the future. But, those seeking to differentiate themselves and best attract and empower students need to think about these issues and react immediately.

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  • With great hope, maybe we will move away from putting 30 kids in room for 1 hour, teaching them all the same thing at the same speed and expecting 'excellence'.

    Teachers should be seen as resources, not the fountain of knowledge that simply pass on facts in order for the students to spew it all out on exam day and then forget most it soon after.

    Freedom, time, space, autonomy. It works, I ran an in-school design agency and pretty much left them to get on with it. Of course I offered support and advice, but gone were the lectures and instead they went out there, found out the information and worked in teams towards a goal. What's this called again? Oh yes, that's it...the REAL world. If we're going to prepare students FOR it, then give them a taste OF it!

  • Bill Van Eron

    The question behind the predictions is whether education can fix itself despite being slow moving, behind in adopting technology, resistant to change, and to be fair, their hands are full keeping up with today. To me, while education needs to participate in the solution, it is best coming from a mix of a new breed of creative, critical and systems thinkers like us and industry. Education is an eco-system and it too needs to adapt as well as prepare most students to do the same. Adapting is the #1 requirement of all businesses now. It is inevitable, but just like in education, industry too has its faults. My team figured this all out and validated needs with educators and education leaders nationwide, it seems our solution is even more critical than imagined. The current wave of advanced industry jobs and low industry confidence in US education translates to offshore hiring. Check out Aristotl as a complete STEAM supportive but bigger to connect students to greater opportunities

  • jcrocks2008

    As many commented below, these are not predictions for the future, just what is occurring now. I think I would add that, unless the Common Core is stopped in elementary and secondary education (and it should be, for a variety of reasons), it will drastically affect higher education within the next 5 years. In particular, assessment has changed, and not for the better. Students are also coming in knowing how to fill out scan-tron sheets, but not knowing how to think critically or creatively. The Common Core was structured by politicians and text-book companies, not educators. It is ruining the learning process for a whole generation of students.

  • John Mack

    Computers will be largely abandoned for any serious use within 20-years.

    Spying through computers, and hacking, will be so sophisticated and commonplace that governments and corporations will require that their people communicate anything significant through couriers carrying paper documents that self-destruct within a set amount of minutes after the pouch is opened. And immediately if the pouch is opened prematurely (when it can be opened will be set by the sender).

    Anyone of any importance will not be allowed to use a computer at all.

  • These are the tendences for Higher Education in the next few years. The rol for universities in the near future will be to provide the environment to create startups, business models, new funding ways to back these projects, -made by the students with the professors collaboration- and everything will be made inside the campuses. The universities are called to become in the idea factories and to guide the new entrepreneurs to create significant projects.

  • Just stumbled upon this. I definitely agree with @bridgetheory. This is a good summary of what's currently happening in higher ed that will continue in the short-term - not a bold look into the future. If I didn't know better, I'd suggest the author hasn't been inside higher ed (at least not in the past 5-10 years) to know the industry.

    I always enjoy anything from Fast Company, but this is not a fresh or bold look if you know much about the higher education industry.

  • Most of these "bold predictions" are already happening and have been for some time. But nevertheless, this is a good summary of some of the things we need to be aware of as the role of the university changes dramatically from "keepers of knowledge" to "incubators of innovation" in years to come.

    Faculty will be evaluated on the value they bring to the information marketplace as opposed to past experience and titles (bye-bye tenure). This will naturally result in an increase of working adjuncts who are immersed in the subjects they are facilitating (less theory and more practice). Also expect the marketplace for educators to become highly democratized, i.e. no more teaching one subject for a single university. The educator of the 21st century will facilitate wherever their specific discipline is needed, both online and at various "innovation centers" throughout the world. Their role is changing as is the role of universities. The ability to adapt is critical for today's educators .

  • Sammy Blake

    Yes, essentially educators will become like any company's human resource development professionals or trainers, except they'll be working by contract primarily "wherever their specific discipline is needed." Adapting to changing technologies and knowledge disruptions, educators will be compensated according to customer demand, where true value can be mapped. Very innovative stuff indeed.

  • Kelly Brooks

    Like Charles, I think you may have overlooked one big change that I see coming -- the large scale divestiture of faculty from the institution. We see more and more a move away from tenure and a dependance on adjunct faculty. Will there come a day when the market is open and instructors (not researchers, perhaps) are primarily a private contractor type profession where those who get the best course evaluations, do TED talks and teach MOOCs can demand more than those freshly-minted PhD's? Certainly it will give instructors more freedom and be more cost-effective for institutuions.....

  • jcrocks2008

    It's already being done an it's ruining higher education. Adjunct instructors rarely understand the needs of the students or the institution. They are unavailable when students need help and student-instructor interactions are almost always rated much lower than full-time faculty interactions. Most adjuncts get little support from their full-time colleagues (meetings, collaboration, research, continuing education funds) and no support from administration. They are vastly underpaid and most only last a year or two before taking an administrative job or a job outside of higher ed. All of these factors reduce enrollment and retention, which is something schools are always concerned about.

    When schools go back to hiring more full-time faculty, they see higher rates of student satisfaction, success, enrollment, and retention. The investment up front is worth keeping the students, and leads to more income/profit in the long run.

  • Well stated. Freedom is a key word here. "Free market education" is a dramatic psychological leap for many traditional educators to embrace but once they do they usually never go back. I know a few successful MOOC teachers who just a few years ago refused to teach online because they were terrified of the technology, but now they are seeing the benefits firsthand and refuse to go back to the classroom. Those who are willing to adapt will have the most opportunities in the new age of higher education.

  • jcrocks2008

    Real online courses are much much different from MOOCS. MOOCs are going to fail within 3-5 years. They just aren't successful. There are too many people to create a community of learning. It has been demonstrated time and again that learning rarely takes place in these types of environments. Most students who enroll do not finish.

    Online courses taught by faculty at traditional colleges (not for-profit schools) can be slightly more successful, if enrollment is kept within reasonable guidelines. It also makes a difference if content is interactive (Ex. Use of Skype, Voicethread, etc. instead of just generic message boards). However, even these courses have higher drop out rates and much lower retention than face-to-face actual real classrooms.

    It's not a matter of being afraid of technology. It's a question of best practices and what works.

  • "Scores of other universities are realizing students value their life experience just as much as their academic experience. This is pushing universities to find creative ways to fund new spaces and programming for students."

    Aaaaaand college costs sky-high...

  • This entire article is nothing but buzz words and infospeak. Which is why private sector education is doing so well. Get to the point. Get paid. Repeat. If you do well you survive. If you do not do well you perish. Apply that same standard of survivability to monopolistic public education and the weak will get strong, the strong will survive and the failures will perish.

  • Shawn Drost

    I'm a cofounder of Hack Reactor, a 12-week immersion school for software engineers in San Francisco. This is a good conversation, but the problems with education are bigger than what we, as a nation, are talking about now, and the future needs to be much bolder than what's suggested in this article.

    Current education models are too slow and don't support the transition from educational experience to a relevant life and a livable wage. Universities can't even speak consistently to job placement rates and data about graduates. By the time they realize they should incorporate tech, that tech has changed. Something big is broken.

    The good news is--with or without traditional institutions of learning--the world is innovating to solve this problem. Hack Reactor and other immersion schools are already educating more software engineers every year than Stanford, Berkeley, CMU, MIT, and Harvard combined. Now, how can we work together? Get in touch. http://www.hackreactor.com

  • Erik Michael Eggers

    I totally agree with your comments. I am from Greenville, SC and we have The Iron Yard here. I know many students who have went through the program and have gone on to get great jobs right after graduating. I have been in college for a few years and decided to take a break from it. I was going for Web Design and I was seriously about to start a class on Dreamweaver. I haven't touched Dreamweaver in years.

    I am a big fan of immersion schools and employers seem to be as well. Technology changes so often and schools seem to lag WAY behind. I think a big obstacle for immersion schools is... well the fact that you are out of work for 12 weeks. I would love to go to a school like The Iron Yard or Hack Reactor. It is just a matter of figuring out life around it!