CNBC’s finance expert weighs in on the future of higher education

According to one CNBC analyst, new institutional models are on the near horizon

Epperson-CNBC-higherThe future of higher education and what it may look like in just 10 years from now is a discussion on many tables, with everyone from concerned parents to university presidents trying to predict how institutional models will rapidly evolve in the next few years–not an easy task.

But the more heads that come together, from Clayton Christensen to Salman Khan, the better, and CNBC recently reached out to eCampus News for a discussion on the future of higher education with the network’s Personal Finance Correspondent and Senior Commodities Correspondent Sharon Epperson.

Epperson—recipient of numerous industry awards for her work in journalism as well as in the community, and with a bachelor’s in sociology and government from Harvard University, and a master’s of international affairs degree from Columbia University—is celebrating CNBC’s 25th anniversary by discussing the changing role of higher ed in the U.S., including a look at what education may look like 25 years from now.

Epperson’s work with CNBC has included many pieces on education reform and technology, including:

  • Will the college bubble burst? (Epperson looks at the possibility of the end of the university as we know it over the next 25 years.)
  • The future of America’s education system: (Discussing the customization of curriculum and how the individualized learning approach may change the way students learn, with former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and StudentsFirst founder Michelle Rhee.
  • Valuing virtual education: (CNBC’s Herb Greenberg and Epperson share their opinions on the barriers to online education acceptance.)

And in this interview with eCampus News, Epperson discusses alternative credentials, traditional universities and their online branches, the potential of MOOCs as a viable financial model, and much more:

eCampus News (eCN): It seems everyone is saying that higher education should focus more on skills-based degrees and alternative pathways to these degrees, even in traditional four-year institutions. How do you see traditional colleges incorporating these alternative pathways into their missions, which typically include “soft skills,” such as critical thinking? For example, will traditional college and universities simply branch off virtually, or do you think the recent trend of offering online platforms in addition to the traditional degree to showcase credentials in the form of badges and certificates is going to become more prominent?

Epperson: Recent history suggests that the internet is very efficient in destroying any systems that rely on the sale of information. In my own industry, I’ve witnessed the prominence of digital content that is free and plentiful, which is putting storied newspapers and flagship magazines to rest.

With that said, the emergence of online courses and virtual learning is forcing educators to rethink the higher education model, and a restructuring will come in the form of more courses designed to teach specific skills that will be used in the workforce. In this higher education model, employers themselves will have to play a bigger role – because colleges and universities largely exist to prepare an entire workforce of leaders and innovators for the future. They will have a larger say in the types of candidates they are looking for – and the skills they will need to succeed.

College degrees will become less about a paper diploma that indicates completion of a four-year degree, but it will be more about certificates of excellence in the skills employers will need. This is the clearest, alternative path that exists for students.

The residential experience will always exist – but it will become a bygone college experience that only a small percentage will be able to afford. The majority will complete “badges and certificates” which will also be the cheaper alternative.

(Next page: Business and badges; monetizing MOOCs; and more)