The Future of Higher Education in 15 Tweets

What is the status of the current conversation about the future of higher education? Summer is often a time for reflection about such topics, with conferences, round tables, and a little extra time for scholars and other to engage in informal writing and musing about the future. With that in mind, it is interesting to see what is getting Tweeted, retweeted and discussed. The phrase “future of higher education” gets a bit of use on Twitter as people are debating everything from faculty tenure to the cost of college, whether MOOCs will disruptive higher education or the ongoing need for the liberal arts. With this in mind, here is a recent snapshot of the conversation, representing hot topics for July, 2015 followed by a little commentary about each one.

This Huffington Post article highlights a critical (and some argue detrimental) shift in the higher education space. Where students once struggled and fought to get that open seat, this author argues that the tables have turned, and Universities are working to woo the students. Of course, there is truth this claim, but there are plenty of “hard to get” spots in top schools and specialized programs, and those schools continue to meet or exceed enrollment targets.

Jeffrey Selingo’s 2012 book continue to be a source discussion about the future of higher education, especially with his speaking schedule re-prompting social media exploration of his ideas. In July he was at the Learning House Conference which led to more than a few tweets and blog post reflections. Selingo tackles everything from MOOCs to micro-credentials, workforce development to the future of earning a degree by learning across multiple organizations and contexts. That last part is a theme that shows up in my writing on the subject.

As one who has been involved with online learning since the early 1990s, I have to set my ego aside to digest reflections on the seemingly new phenomenon called small private online courses (which those of us in the industry have just called “online courses” for the last twenty years). Nonetheless, it is a continued strained of conversation about the role of online learning in the future of higher education.

This article from Business Woman reminds us about the fact that higher education trends (accelerated learning is a 45 year trend, and online learning a 20+ year trend) are driven by the needs and contexts of today’s students, with a significant portion of them being working women. In other words, these changes are being shaped by current needs of people combined with the affordances of emerging technologies and the openness of higher education institutions to adapt programming to the needs of students.

There is no article or link here, just a direct and important question about the role of corporate education companies in shaping the future of higher education. Pearson continues to be a powerhouse with textbooks, but their transformation into a full-service education is making them an integrated part of testing and assessment, credentialing, along with blended and online course design. To illustrate with a personal anecdote, I heard a healthcare faculty member who recently came from a conference talk about her decision to stop designing her own online courses. Why reinvent the wheel when companies like Pearson already did the work for you? All she has to do is just reply to a few discussions and stay up on the grading. Is it just me, or did she just give up something rather significant? Good, bad, both? 

This tweet reminds us about the global trends in higher education, with tensions between US colleges and Universities partnering and/or establish campuses around the world, and nationals in countries like China expressing concern about the infiltration of American values into Chinese colleges and classrooms. The article referenced in this tweet is n excellent example of such tensions.

This is yet another important strand in futures of tertiary education. To what extent will the workforce needs and demands of corporations influence higher education institutions of the future? 

This tweet renewed interest in an October 2015 lecture by the President of Dartmouth, noting the important conversation around underrepresentation of certain people and demographics in the sciences.

Will more colleges partner and merge as we face forthcoming challenges and opportunities in higher education? This article explores that topic.

Here is one university’s attempt to engage more students and faculty in the blogosphere and social media world. This one might not seem as “big” as some of the other themes, but it illustrates how higher education institutions continue to grapple with what education looks like on a connected world, which is certainly a big issue. I’ll be bold enough to simply state that schools that ignore this will not make it.

There is nothing entirely new in this article, but it certainly hits five hot topics: the future of multi-disciplinary studies, MOOCs meet traditional courses, student and the recruitment and the growing focus upon the overall (as in beyond academics) student “experience”, the assimilation of emerging technologies like augmented reality, and alternative funding models for higher education.

Bill Gates continues to have plenty to say about education. In this 50-minute interview with Bill Gates, he argues that the elite schools are powerhouses in both world-changing research and teaching will not be under too much attack. However, he suggests that the bulk of students are educated in the public institutions, and they are in need of new cost structures and models that can address affordability and accessibility. There is an undertone to the private/public characterizations that warrants unpacking, but I’ll save that commentary for another post.

On July 1, 2015 Dell launched this promotional video targeting the higher education marketplace. It isn’t much of a stretch, but it gives a glimpse into next generation hardware that allows people to display and manipulate data on different surfaces and in new ways. There are no moonshots or surprising revelations, but if you add a little imagination and reflection to your viewing, there are plenty of intriguing possibilities to consider.

This one represents one of my mantras, that we need to move beyond talking about the future of higher education as if it were one uniform entity. The future likely looks different for the large state schools and the small liberal arts college, the community college and the élite research institution. We need to add that level of detail to our conversation if we want to avoid unhelpful generalizations. 

This one provides a compelling vision of an intriguing little higher education institutions that is likely unlike any college you’ve witnessed. Might these boutique learning communities have an important emerging and future role?