5 Inevitable Post-Pandemic Changes to Higher Education
My last two blog posts explore ways that career guidance professionals can help students prepare for a changing world of work. This one tackles how to help students make wise career choices in the rapidly transforming world of higher education.
What can we expect to be the long-lasting impact of the global pandemic on the landscape of higher education? In a provocative article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Arthur Levine and Scott Van Pelt forecast five ways higher ed will be “upended.” What are they?
Higher Education Change #1: A Power Shift
Power will shift from institutions—colleges and universities—to consumers. Levine and Scott offer an analogy: Big recording studios used to control what music we listened to, and how we listened to it. They were in control. But with changes to regulations governing the industry, and with the rise of the digital economy, consumers now possess more power than ever to listen to whom they wish, how they wish.
This same shift is now happening in higher education. We still tend to think that colleges and universities drive the enterprise, but more and more, consumers will dictate when and how their education and credentialing will unfold.
Higher Education Change #2: A New Higher Education Model
Students will demand of higher ed the same access models they are getting from the entertainment and news industries. Increasingly, fixed-time, fixed-location, and bundled educational content will give way to on-demand, mobile, unbundled content. Rather than paying for services and activities they are unlikely to use, students will demand affordable, a la carte options.
Convenience, quality, and affordability will replace premium access to a broad suite of services and electives, many of which are peripheral to the core value education can deliver. Music listeners want to buy individual tracks rather than entire albums, or they prefer to subscribe and access what music they want, whenever it is needed. Students will demand the same from higher education.
Higher Education Change #3: New Competition
New competition will emerge. Learning platforms like Coursera and Udemy offer pragmatic, career-oriented training that students can access anytime. These companies already are partnering with well-established universities to generate content, but also with companies and nonprofits such as Cisco, Goldman Sachs, the Museum of Modern Art, and the World Bank.
The value this model offers is immense, and certification programs already have emerged (e.g., 12 credits and a Google badge) that sometimes serve as an employment credential equal to (or even more valuable to some employers) a traditional 4-year degree.
Higher Education Change #4: Outcome-focused Education
Education focused on time, process, and teaching will succumb to the outcomes-focused knowledge economy. I have a good friend who says “there is no teaching, there is only learning.” His point is that the outcomes matter—where students end up, not how they get there.
Competencies will matter more, and grades will matter less. Neither students nor employers ultimately will care much about the process of learning, but only the answer to the question: Have you acquired the skills you need to be competitive in the marketplace and successful in the job you land?
Higher Education Change #5: “Just in time” Education
“Just in case” education (e.g., teaching what colleges believe will be necessary for the future) will be replaced with “just in time” education (e.g., micro-credentials/badges that highlight a skill students need immediately). Levine and Van Pelt argue that degrees are declining in value within the labor market, and certificate programs are multiplying. The more employers require only a certification, or view certifications as equivalent to degrees, the less demand traditional degrees will command.
As a result of this shift, transcripts and resumes will report competencies rather than training experiences and degrees, and tuition will become subscription-based and tied to outcomes, rather than credit-based.
Hybrid Solutions are the Future
The picture painted by this list is a harsh one for many institutions and educators, especially those still hoping that things will return to “normal” after the pandemic mercifully abates. Colleges and universities notoriously change course very slowly, like turning a cruise ship.
They have well-earned reputations for not adapting well to rapid change over which they have little control. Bold leadership and calculated risk-taking will be crucial in navigating the changes like those on Levine and Van Pelt’s list.
But do not be shocked if the pendulum begins to swing back on some of these trends, once otherwise forward-thinking employers experience the shortcomings of credentialed employees with narrow technical skills who struggle to see the bigger picture contextualizing the thornier challenges their organizations face.
Ultimately, hybrid educational solutions that balance convenience and efficiency with breadth and depth will be required. So the future may not look quite like what Levine and Van Pelt foresee—but things won’t go back to normal, either.
If you are a career development professional, you’ve probably been tracking conversations like this one. And you’ve probably asked yourself: How do we equip students to chart out a preferred future in this kind of changing reality? The answer is of course multi-pronged, but it is not as exotic as you may think.
Prepare for Change and Be Adaptable
For years, career counselors have promoted the notion that students and job-seekers need to cultivate their ability to adapt. Career adaptability remains an essential outcome from the career counseling process, and it’s more important now than ever. Similarly, proactively creating new opportunities, using skills such as those underlying planned happenstance, will give job-seekers a competitive edge.
Fostering career adaptability and planned happenstance are objectives to which career counselors have oriented for some time. And probably even more familiar is the answer to the question of what should drive student decision-making, if a satisfying career is a goal. Even in a landscape that is transforming before our very eyes, the fit between a career path and students’ interests is still central in determining how satisfied they will be with their chosen career. Skills and strengths matter, sure, but they are secondary.
To achieve a satisfying career, interests are still the driver. How are you helping students achieve this kind of fit? PathwayU is the only patented platform to offer scientifically-derived assessment data specifically designed to help students pursue their purpose by leveraging their interests, values, personality, and workplace preferences. Interested in using PathwayU to support your students? Give us a shout.
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Interested in using PathwayU to support your students? Give us a shout.